Neil Simon, the prolific playwright whose Broadway hits included the newlyweds-in-Manhattan romp Barefoot in the Park, the prototypical bromance The Odd Couple, and the autobiographical Brighton Beach Memoirs, died Saturday night in New York City of complications from pneumonia, his publicist announced. He was 91.
A native of the Bronx, Simon launched his career scripting variety shows for the likes of Sid Caesar and Jerry Lewis. He amassed an impressive collection of screenplays including The Out-of-Towners, The Heartbreak Kid, and The Goodbye Girl (one of the five films he wrote for his second wife, Marsha Mason). And he authored two memoirs, Rewrites and The Play Goes On. But if you had asked the born-and-bred New Yorker to list his occupation on, say, a resume, it would have read "Broadway playwright."
Simon hadn't written a new play since 2003's Rose's Dilemma, a forgettable work now better remembered for the offstage kerfuffle between Simon and star Mary Tyler Moore, who quit during previews after he sent her a note telling her, essentially, to learn her lines or leave. ("I realize now that my mind was working differently being on dialysis," he explained to The New York Times in 2004, on the mend after a kidney transplant. The donor was Simon's friend and longtime publicist, Bill Evans.) Still, the playwright really only began to slow down once he hit 70; even then, he brought three plays - 1997's underrated Proposals (his Chekhovian ode to the courtship of his first wife, Joan Baim), 2000's Paris-set Dinner Party, and 2001's theatrical valentine 45 Seconds From Broadway - to the Great White Way.