How did Carl Reiner plan to celebrate his 97th birthday today, Wednesday, March 20? “By staying alive!” the comedy legend quipped. “Today, I woke up thinking about a dish I haven’t eaten in a long time. We used to have a house in the south of France, and the first day we arrived we always had ‘lapin a la cocotte,’ rabbit in burnt butter sauce. I’m going to celebrate by having that!”
It’s thoughts like these that keep Carl going strong. “If you wake up and have an idea in your head, you will last longer,” he exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “One of the reasons I’m alive is because my head is still working. If my head is still working, my body has to follow suit!”
He’s packed a lot into his 97 years. Born in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants, he “grew up seeing movies once a week,” he recalled. “My parents loved comedies, so we saw Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, the Ritz Brothers and the Marx Brothers. I wanted to be one of them.”
Drafted into the Air Force during World War II, he served as a radio operator and toured as an actor, entertaining troops in Guam, Hawaii and Iwo Jima. “Going through a war and living is a very important process,” he said. “You realize how vulnerable you are and how lucky you are to be in the right place at the right time. As a matter of fact, I have a history of luck.”
He was lucky enough to get hired as a writer and performer for Sid Caesar’s classic skit-com Your Show of Shows, where he met best friend Mel Brooks, with whom he later recorded the timeless 2000-Year-Old Man comedy albums.
He also created and costarred in The Dick Van Dyke Show, which won 15 Emmys and is still popular in worldwide syndication. Carl remains pals with Dick Van Dyke, 93. “Nobody can do what Dick does,” Carl marveled of the recent Mary Poppins Returns scene-stealer. “He can still dance and kick his legs in the air!”
Carl’s personal life has been even more successful than his professional one. He was wed for 65 years to actress Estelle Reiner (When Harry Met Sally), who died at 94 in 2008. “My wife laid it out pretty clear,” Carl said. “Marry someone who can stand you at your worst.”
Together, Carl and Estelle have three kids: Rob Reiner, 72, Annie Reiner, 69, and Lucas Reiner, 58. They all followed their parents into the arts. “I didn’t force him to go into it,” said Carl of actor-director Rob. “But he loved what I was doing.”
Carl still loves it, too. He’s published several books in recent years, including Alive at 95 and Approaching 96. “If you write, write about what you do and who you are and you can’t be wrong,” he said. “Don’t lie about anything. You are very similar to everybody else in the world: You love, you hate, you have friends, you have enemies. Be who you are.”
To also celebrate Carl’s 97th birthday today, the National Comedy Center, located in Jamestown, New York, has announced an initiative to digitally preserve the star’s extensive personal collection of production-used scripts from The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the most iconic, innovative and beloved comedy series in television history. So cool!
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