Einstein died Wednesday in Indian Wells, Calif. He was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Einstein was known most recently for playing Marty Funkhouser, the aggravating old friend of Larry David on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Einstein also created the character of Super Dave Osborne, the fearless but accident-prone daredevil who made appearances on a range of comedy-variety shows starting in the 1970s. At 6 feet, 4 inches tall, Einstein could pull off the part of an Evel Knievel wannabe whose stunts always ended in disaster.
On “Smothers Brothers,” Einstein crafted the humorless, helmet-wearing motorcycle cop Officer Judy who would perpetually ride in to sketches to “bust” other characters. During his tenure on the groundbreaking and controversial CBS series, Einstein was a writing partner and roommates with future comedy superstar Steve Martin.
Einstein’s style of droll, character-based comedy was a forerunner of the mockumentary and improv format employed in “Curb,” “The Office,” and other contemporary shows. “No one was more confident with the long payoff,” comedian Patton Oswalt wrote on Twitter.
The Super Dave Osborne character starred in a four-part special for Spike TV, “Super Dave’s Spike Tacular,” in 2009. Einstein also logged guest shots in recent years on such shows including “Arrested Development,” “Crank Yankers,” and “Anger Management.”
Einstein won an Emmy as part of the writing staff of “Smothers Brothers” in 1969. He also earned a writing Emmy in 1977 for his work on Dick Van Dyke’s short-lived NBC variety show “Van Dyke and Company.” Einstein was a regular performer on the show, along with a young Andy Kaufman.
Einstein’s death was confirmed on Wednesday by his brother, comedian and filmmaker Albert Brooks.
“R.I.P. My dear brother Bob Einstein. A great brother, father and husband. A brilliantly funny man. You will be missed forever,” Brooks wrote.
Born in Los Angeles, Einstein was the middle son of comedian Harry Einstein, known from his radio appearances as the character Parkyakarkus, and actress Thelma Leeds. He attended Chapman University and began working in advertising, but segued into local TV. He was offered a job as a writer-performer on “Smothers Brothers” by Tommy Smothers, who was impressed by Einstein’s dry delivery on a local TV series hosted by L.A. radio personality Bob Arbogast.
Einstein worked steadily as a TV writer in the 1970s for such shows as “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” and “Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour.”
The Super Dave Osborne character was featured again on the 1980s Canadian sketch comedy series “Bizarre,” and in specials for Showtime and Canada’s CTV in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Einstein was a regular on the talk-show circuit for years, logging numerous appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “Late Night With David Letterman,” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” among others. He was featured in a 2017 episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
On the film side, Einstein appeared opposite his younger brother in the 1981 Brooks film “Modern Romance.” Other credits include 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” and 1972’s “Get to Know Your Rabbit,” which starred Tommy Smothers.
Einstein is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Roberta Einstein, a daughter, and two grandchildren, as well as two brothers, Brooks and older brother Cliff Einstein. The family requests that donations be made in Einstein’s memory to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Here is an interview clip of Einstein discussing how he got his start on “Smothers Brothers.”
(Pictured: Einstein, right, with Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”)