R.I.P. Tom Smothers, one half of musical comedy duo the Smothers Brothers

Along with his brother Dick, the pair famously went up against the television censors.

The Everett Collection

With their tidy suits, neat haircuts, and a classic brothers act, the Smothers Brothers didn't look like counterculture icons. Yet, the pair became famous for their brand of edgy, provocative comedy that thumbed its nose at any authority, even if it cost them.

Thomas Smothers, the elder of the two, was born in 1937. Along with his younger brother, Dick, he joined a folk music group called the Casual Quintet for a short time before the pair set off on their own. With Tom on the acoustic guitar and Dick on the upright bass, their musical comedy quickly became a hot ticket in clubs and released several successful albums.

Before long the two started appearing on TV shows like The Jack Paar Show, The Judy Garland Show, The New Steve Allen Show, and more. In 1965, the Smothers were given their very own program, aptly titled The Smothers Brothers Show.

The sitcom followed Dick, a rising executive and bachelor, and his deceased brother Tom, who played a guardian angel-in-training. Of course, as you might expect, Tom's attempts to improve life on earth for his charges inevitably led to mishaps that had to be dealt with by Dick. The show had very little music and Tom especially clashed with executives over the fact that it didn't allow the brothers to play to their strengths, which led to the show's cancellation after one season.

However, that cleared the way for what the brothers are now best-known for: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

This time the format was a variety show. Tom played the dimwitted brother with Dick as the straight man, and the running gag of their sibling rivalry led to the famous catch phrase "mom always liked you best!" The Smothers' show launched the careers of talented writers and performers including Steve Martin, Rob Reiner, Lorenzo Music, and more. In addition to a hip, edgy writer's room, the brothers often had on musical guests that other variety shows of the time shied away from due to their style or political views. Acts included The Who, Cass Elliot, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, and other now-classic artists.

The brothers found themselves at odds with the network censors on a regular basis. Unafraid to take aim at topics like religion, politics, and the Vietnam War, the show was subject to segments or entire episodes being deleted, delayed, or banned in certain markets. In 1969, CBS abruptly cancelled the show due to the controversies. 

“I was so young and naive about what Tommy was going through,” Rob Reiner said. “He protected us while fighting tooth and nail to put things on TV that no one had before."

In 1969, while the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedic Series, Tom declined to include his name on the list of writers, fearing that the volatility attached to it at that point would hurt the rest. In 2008, Steve Martin, who was one of the writers who won the 1969 Emmy, presented Tom with a special Emmy to recognize his work as well. Two years later, the brothers entered the TV Academy Hall of Fame.

"Tom was not only the loving older brother that everyone would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind creative partner," Dick Smothers said. "I am forever grateful to have spent a lifetime together with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years. Our relationship was like a good marriage — the longer we were together, the more we loved and respected one another. We were truly blessed."

The groundbreaking comedian, actor, and musician was 86.

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45 Comments

Pacificsun 6 months ago
The way the story reads is almost as if the writers weren't there. Not to say the details weren't true. Just incomplete. So the basis of the conflict, and defying the norms of CBS, were the Smother Brothers' comments about (or criticism) of the Viet Nam War. Compared to today's conflicts and open warfare over just about everything. It wouldn't seem to as big a deal back then. Except that television entertainment was supposed to be just that. And not a tool for polarizing half the audience. Remember, television wasn't about pleasing its audience, but satisfying the advertisers who kept it running. And when sponsors are lost, changes need to be made. And so they were blamed. But what they actually were, were the first visible revolutionaries in prime time. And set the precedent for what came to follow. In the day, and when entertainment jobs were scarce and reputation made or broke you, they were very brave, people driven by their principles.
Jimtypes 6 months ago
When I was a small kid the brothers tv show on CBS was a big hit. My family moved to Germany and when we got back to the states they were off the air. Many years later, in New Orleans, I ran camera for large conventions and Dick and Tom were headliners. They were still funny after all the years. RIP Tom.
obectionoverruled 6 months ago
Dick Smothers brilliantly played the crooked Nevada state gambling commissioner in Casino. A half dozen other washed up former comedians were also cast. Alan King, Don Rickles and Steve Allen come to mind. A marvelous casting job of unlikely candidates as heavies. Of all the roles, though, I loved the scene when Joe Pesci threatened DeNiro’s banker pal.
RLedford 6 months ago
Sad to hear about Tom Smothers passing away - May he rest in peace and may his family have my condolences during their time in mourning ✝️🙏🇺🇸
terrymarvin 6 months ago
Saturday, December 30, 2023--6:28 pm CST

I just finished reading the article. It was a very good article. R.I.P. Tommy Smothers.
Tommy Smothers will be missed. I hope he'll get recognition on the Memorium Section of "The Golden Globe Awards" and the Emmy Awards.

Terry Marvin (Dallas, Texas, USA)
jackbennyfan 6 months ago
It would be great to bring back the comedy shows from the 60's and 70's. No violence, no pleeping. Just great entertainment.
healingmindn 6 months ago
OK, does that mean MeTV is gonna show us The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour? I'm up for it. Weekends? Sure!
timothys71 healingmindn 6 months ago
Kind of sad to hear of Tom Smothers' passing. I would love to see the Smothers Brothers Show (sitcom) and/or the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (variety show) on MeTV. Get TV briefly ran the variety show a few years ago, but I don't think variety shows are on their current schedule.
kwlcat 6 months ago
I'd love to see MeTV or Catchy Comedy run the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour maybe in tandem with Laugh-in. Also the Smothers Brothers Show (sitcom aka My Brother the Angel) would be a great Catchy Comedy Binge offering. TV LAND ran it years ago.
MikefromJersey kwlcat 6 months ago
Don't forget their 1988 show. Plus when E Network ran the the CBS series maybe 30
years ago Tom and Dick hosted with new commentary, MeTV should run that version,
it has a lot of behind the scenes info.
Tresix 6 months ago
I remember we used to watch the show, but, I admit, it was over my head. I was only 8 at the time. Didn’t understand it until I read about the show in my teens.
MikefromJersey 6 months ago
RIP Tommy. Saw the brothers at the Paper Mill Playhouse. My older brothers saw them at
the High School in LaGrange, Illinois right before their career really took off.

West Pointer, Major Tom Smothers senior had to send his family home from the Philippines after
Pearl Harbor. He was later captured by the invading Japanese army, and like almost all POWs
was used as slave labor, brutally tortured and starved. He somehow lasted in various camps
until finally dying in 1945. Unlike Germany which since the war has spent untold billions
in making amends for it's war crimes, Japan has done almost nothing but deny, deny, deny,
trusting as that generation rapidly dies off it's crimes will be forgotten.
They are right, as the teaching of history is abysmal in American schools. But you can bet
the Smothers remembered at each holiday meal when they were growing up and their
dad wasn't there because of a barbaric and ruthless Japanese government.
JHP 6 months ago
off topic

can some network bring back Laugh In? we as old coots and coot-eettes need some wacky corny humor
Bapa1 JHP 6 months ago
Decades was showing it. I don't get it anymore, so I'm not sure
JHP Bapa1 6 months ago
you are right I get that channel OTA but not on the wire
MikefromJersey JHP 6 months ago
Decades, now "Catchy", runs it at 3 AM. "Z Living" (ZLVND) also runs it nightly, though I see
Comcast has just ceased carrying that network as of today.
The episodes hold up quite well, it's amazing the number of huge stars who guested,
including future presidents. On the News of the Future segment, they accurately
predicted some items like the fall of the Berlin Wall!
kwlcat JHP 6 months ago
Catchy Comedy runs it at 3am EST. It's also available on many free streaming services.
JHP kwlcat 6 months ago
thanks for the info:)
Peter_Falk_Fan 6 months ago
I believe the first time I saw Tommy Smothers was on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In". I always enjoyed when he guest-starred on different shows, like "The Carol Burnett Show".

R.I.P. Tommy Smothers

kwlcat Peter_Falk_Fan 6 months ago
He may have. Now You can look up the only unaired episode of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and you'll see Dan Rowan subbing for Dick Smothers.
JHP 6 months ago
another great show that wouldnt survive a week in this dumb dumb society - all these "reality" shows - c'mon and get REAL!
MrsPhilHarris 6 months ago
My parents watched their variety show. Tommy Smothers was at the John Lennon / Yoko Ono bed-in in Montreal.
Yep, he played his guitar on "Give Peace A Chance"!
JHP cperrynaples 6 months ago
oh could I really comment on that post - but wont (laffing so much) - nothing trolling
MrsPhilHarris JHP 6 months ago
I wish you would! 😁
JHP MrsPhilHarris 6 months ago
well - it has to do with bed and a peace:) - that's all folks
Coldnorth JHP 6 months ago
Clutching my pearls.
Moody 6 months ago
I loved watching these guys whenever they appeared on one of the variety shows in the 60s and, of course their own show. A very funny act. RIP Tommy Smothers.
cperrynaples 6 months ago
Well, we knew which one mother liked best...LOL! Saw them TWICE in Atlantic City back in the day!
Bapa1 6 months ago
RIP. Saw them in 1985, they were good. Never really watched the show, but coincidentally, I was watching a docu about The Who, and their appearance on their show with the drums exploding was on it. Recently read a book about the history of the show, it was interesting.
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Bapa1 JHP 6 months ago
Was listening to The Who this morning.
JHP Bapa1 6 months ago
well my Who friend....

Was it Bargain? Slip Kid? Wont get fooled again? Happy Jack? Amazing Journey? 5:15 (from quadrophenia?) - sorry just had to go on and on maybe the "rock"? eunf already
gockionni JHP 6 months ago
Do you like anything from Odds and Sods? Been a WHO fan since the seventies but have collected a couple of their early European albums, one produced shortly after they became The Who.
JHP gockionni 6 months ago
when in comes to true music - they are - bourbon on rocks (woodford reserve) on a warm Summers day after the grilling of the Cajun catfish- smile when I tell you; "thank you" - got the album on vinyl - you made my year

got all of the who albums on vinyl



you made me smile :) god (or whoever ) bless you:)

Sway 6 months ago
RIP Tommy Smothers. I remember the watching and enjoying the show when I was a kid. My dad was a huge fan.
Thanks for the entertainment.
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