Sid Caesar, Ringmaster of Iconic 'Your Show of Shows,' Dead at 91

Sid Caesar was the original TV king of Saturday night. Caesar, the primetime pioneer behind a breeding ground for comedy known as "Your Show of Shows," has died, his longtime friend and collaborator Carl Reiner confirmed to Yahoo. Caesar was 91.

Talk-show host Larry King, a friend of Caesar's, broke the news of the passing via Twitter.

Reiner and fellow filmmakers Woody Allen, and Mel Brooks, along with writers Neil Simon ("The Odd Couple") and Larry Gelbart ("Tootsie," TV's "M*A*S*H") were among those whose careers were nurtured by Caesar; Reiner, Brooks, and Simon got starts on "Your Show of Shows," a 90-minute, live-without-a-net sketch show that aired on Saturday nights and predated the likes of "Saturday Night Live" by decades. Gelbart got his break writing for the subsequent "Caesar's Hour," while Allen worked on later Caesar TV specials.

Brooks offered his fond remembrances of Caesar on Twitter, too:

The sitcom favorite "The Dick Van Dyke Show," created by Reiner, and the 1982 Peter O'Toole comedy "My Favorite Year," made by Brooks's production company, were both based on the storied writers room at "Your Show of Shows," called "television's first great show" by Emmy and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin, and the "invent[or] of American TV comedy" by the A.V. Club.

[Photos: Check Out Pics From Sid Caesar's 1950s NBC Series 'Caesar's Hour']

Caesar, a onetime Catskills comic and Coast Guard veteran who'd made his TV debut in the 1949 variety series "The Admiral Broadway Review," was the star and the driving force behind "Your Show of Shows."

"When we got an idea for a sketch, we'd put it right on its feet to see if it got laughs," Caesar recalled in a 1976 interview.

"Your Show of Shows," with costar Imogene Coca, ran for four seasons, from 1950-1954. It won back-to-back Emmys for best variety series, and earned Caesar a 1952 statuette for acting.

Born Isaac Sidney Caesar on Sept. 8, 1922, in Yonkers, New York, the performer was 27 when "Your Show of Show" premiered. When the show ended, he was 31, and according to Brooks, "used up."

"Hollywood wasn't that interested. They had more or less had him," Brooks told HitFix in 2012. "There wasn't an easy segue after doing so many shows to go to the big screen."

Caesar did go onto star in — and win a second career Emmy for — the 1954-57 sketch show, "Caesar's Hour," but the latter program didn't wield the influence or the ratings of "Your Show of Shows." Its cancellation, Caesar later said, sunk him into a 20-year depression. The comic also battled drugs and alcohol, a haze that O'Toole, as a Caesar stand-in, mined for laughs and an Oscar nomination in "My Favorite Year."

[Photos: More TV Stars We've Lost in 2014]

Caesar turned things around, he would say, by talking to the younger version of himself via a tape recorder. "[I'd ask], 'Is it that important that you destroy yourself?'" Caesar related in 1984. "Don't you really want to enjoy life?'"

Though best known for his role in shaping TV and TV comedy, Caesar was also noted for his work in the 1963 all-star film comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," and for playing the football coach in the 1978 hit musical "Grease" and its 1982 sequel, "Grease 2."

The primetime elder statesman picked up two Emmy nominations in the 1990s for guest-star work on the sitcoms "Mad About You" and "Love & War." In 2001, he was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Television Critics Association.

Looking back once on "Your Show of Shows," Caesar said he'd never be able to duplicate its stable of writers and performers. "A single show would cost me a million bucks if I hired the same talent," he said.

When asked by the TV Academy how he wanted to remembered, Caesar's response was just six words long: "I brought laughter to the world."