Buck Henry, the comedy screenwriting legend who penned The Graduate and co-created the spy spoof series Get Smart with Mel Brooks, has passed away. The two-time Oscar nominee was 89.
Henry died of a heart attack Wednesday a Los Angeles hospital his wife, Irene, told The Washington Post. He had suffered a stroke in November 2014.
Henry was known for bringing a satirical edge to screenplays for The Graduate, What’s Up, Doc?, To Die For and for co-creating the NBC TV series Get Smart with Mel Brooks, which ran for five seasons and left an indelible mark on pop culture. But Henry was also a familiar face in front of the camera, appearing frequently onscreen, perhaps most memorably as a 10-time Saturday Night Live host — all in the first four years of the comedy sketch show.
Born Henry Zuckerman on Dec. 9, 1930, in New York City, Henry earned his name from his grandfather, who was nicknamed Buck. Henry got his start writing for Steve Allen and Garry Moore’s TV shows in the 1960s before he landed his big break writing the script for The Graduate, Mike Nichols’ generation-defining film starring Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross and Anne Bancroft. Nichols and producer Lawrence Turman called in the then-untested Henry to punch up Calder Willingham’s script for The Graduate, unhappy with Willingham’s dark adaptation of the Charles Webb novel. Henry would score his first Oscar nomination for that screenplay, later earning a second nod for directing with Warren Beatty for the 1978 movie Heaven Can Wait. He also won a writing Emmy in 1967 for Get Smart and racked up dozens more awards and accolades over the course of his 50-plus year career, including a Golden Globe, a Venice Film Festival prize, a BAFTA, and Writers Guild awards.
“He wasn’t a screenwriter when I asked him to write the screenplay. He improvised comedy,” Nichols recalled in a 2008 interview with Vanity Fair. “He had not, to my knowledge, written anything. And I said, ‘I think you could do it; I think you should do it.’ And he could, and he did.”
But Henry may best be known to this generation for his onscreen appearances, becoming a beloved SNL mainstay during its first season in early 1976. He became the first person to host the show more than five times and was known for his characters like the “Samurai” interviewer, creepy Uncle Roy, a sadistic stunt coordinator, and more. He also acted in dozens of movies, many of which he wrote, as well as TV episodes of Franklin & Bash, Law & Order: SVU, Hot in Cleveland and 30 Rock, recurring as the father of Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon.
Henry is survived by his wife, Irene. He had no children.
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