Emerson alumnus and television comedy pioneer Norman Lear ’44 was honored by the Kennedy Center Sunday, December 3, during its 40th annual celebration of the arts.
Lear “spoke to the human condition and sparked poignant cultural conversations with some of the most epochal TV sitcoms of the 20th century,” including All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and One Day at a Time, Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said in a statement.
The Kennedy Center Honors recognize recipients for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.
Lear, at 95, is still creating. His most recent show, a Cuban American reboot of One Day at a Time for NETFLIX, was rated among the top 10 new programs of 2017, according to the Kennedy Center, and his new podcast, All of the Above with Norman Lear, is available on PodcastOne.
Lear left Emerson to serve in World War II, where he flew 52 combat missions with the 15th Air Force out of Foggia, Italy, according to the Center.
He began writing for television in the 1950s, eventually going on to write and produce some of the most memorable sitcoms of the 1970s and 1980s: All in the Family; Maude; Good Times; The Jeffersons; Sanford and Son; and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. His shows “collectively reached as many as 120 million viewers per week and are said to have transformed the American cultural landscape, bringing the social and political issues of the day into American living rooms,” the Center said.
In 1980, Lear founded People for the American Way, a nonprofit that counters the radical religious right. He has collected numerous honors, including the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and earlier this year, a Peabody Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1984, he was among the first cohort inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
Other Kennedy Center Honors recipients this year are dancer/choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, Cuban American singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, hip hop artist LL COOL J, and musician and record producer Lionel Richie. Honorees are chosen from a pool of nominees made by the Board of Trustees, the artistic community, and the general public, and are recommended by the Center’s Special Honors Advisory Committee.
“Each of this year’s Honorees became known to and loved by the world because of their complete originality and bold genius,” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement. “They are creators of the highest order, and as President Kennedy’s living memorial, the Kennedy Center is so proud to shine a light on their boundless ‘contributions to the human spirit.’”
This year’s slate of Honorees was announced on August 3; on August 19, the White House announced that the president and first lady would not participate in the activities surrounding the Honors, the first time a sitting president declined to attend in more than two decades.