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US playwright, ‘king of comedy’ Neil Simon dead at 91

Neil Simon, the prolific and Pulitzer Prize-winning US playwright celebrated as the king of comedy who won more Oscar and Tony nominations combined than any other showbiz writer, died on Sunday (Aug 26). He was 91.

The brains behind more than 30 plays, 20 screenplays and five musicals, Time magazine dubbed him the “patron saint of laughter.”

Many of his works are classics of 20th century American theater and Simon has been credited with playing a seminal role — along with film director Woody Allen — in re-crafting US humour in the 1960s and 1970s.

His influence has been felt through the generations, The New York Times drawing a line between Simon’s early comedies and the character-based comedy in the 1990s hit sitcom “Seinfeld.”

Longtime friend Bill Evans announced his death early on Sunday in a New York hospital of complications from pneumonia.

His wife, a daughter and grandson were at his bedside, Evans told AFP. He had represented Simon for three decades from 1976 to 2006.

Simon was the author of critically acclaimed and commercial hits such as “Barefoot in the Park” (1963) “The Odd Couple” (1965) “The Sunshine Boys” (1974) and “Lost in Yonkers” (1990).

Much of his work, peppered with witty one-liners, explored the everyday struggles of the middle-classes and inter-family conflict, influenced by his troubled upbringing during the Great Depression.

“The good mechanic knows how to take a car apart; I love to take the human mind apart and see how it works. Behaviour is absolutely the most interesting thing I can write about. You put that behavior in conflict and you’re in business,” Simon told The Paris Review in 1992.

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