Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Corpses Are Piling Up

Sometimes I feel like I'm running an obituary column.

This past week or so has been a rough time for legendary entertainers. They always say they go in threes, but we skipped over three awhile ago.

Dick Martin, Sidney Pollack, Bo Diddley, Mel Ferrer and Harvey Korman all died recently, and now comes news of another passing, maybe not quite so famous, but infinitely influential.

Paul Sills, co-founder of The Compass Players and Second City, died Monday, June 2 of complications related to pneumonia; he was 80.

Longtime Pop Culture Americans steeped in PCA trivia know that Dave and I met at the Second City Training Center and performed there many times. We, like everyone who goes through Second City, revere Paul Sills as a patriarch and visionary of improvisation.

He is the son of Viola Spolin who first codified improvisation games and structures in Improvisation for the Theater, and other books. Sills was the first director of Second City, serving in that capacity from the theater's founding in 1959 through 1965, laying the foundation for the single most prolific source of comedy talent in American history.

You've probably seen the roster of brilliant performers who learned their craft at Second City, but it bears repeating. The names include John Belushi, Alan Arkin, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, Severn Darden, Bonnie Hunt, Amy Sedaris, Eugene Levy, Mike Myers, Robert Klein, Tim Meadows, Joan Rivers, Fred Willard, and any number of other "SNL'ers" and comedians. This could go on and on.

Losing any of the performers who've left us in the past few days diminishes us, but losing Paul Sills is like losing the root of a tree.

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