Carl Reiner amassed many accolades during his eight decades in showbiz, from 12 Emmys and a Grammy to the Mark Twain Prize to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The multi-hyphenate master of comedy, who died June 29 at age 98, also claimed another prestigious tribute — his name on the menu at Los Angeles’ venerable Pink’s Hot Dogs stand on La Brea Avenue. The Reiner Dog is a 9-inch stretch dog topped with mustard and sauerkraut. As fate would have it, a Reiner Dog proved to be its namesake’s last meal.
“It was his favorite meal — a hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut and a side of baked beans,” said George Shapiro, producer and manager who was a nephew of Reiner’s late wife, Estelle Reiner (Shapiro’s mother was Estelle’s older sister).
On June 29, Reiner had been in good spirits all day. He spent time at his Beverly Hills home that evening watching “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” and other programs with dear friend and collaborator Mel Brooks. Around 10 p.m., Reiner was walking out of his TV room with the help of a housekeeper when he stumbled.
“He didn’t fall too hard. It was a gentle buckling of the knees,” Shapiro said. Minutes later, Reiner lost consciousness. “He went out within three minutes,” he said. “He didn’t suffer. Everybody wants to go that way.”
Most important, Shapiro said, Reiner had made a point of telling family and close friends in recent days how much they meant to him and how happy he was with his own remarkable life. Reiner was immensely proud of his three children — Rob, Annie and Lucas, all of whom followed their father into the industry — and the loving extended family he built in 64 years of marriage to Estelle, who died in 2008.
“He was able to tell Rob just a few days ago how he’d accomplished everything he ever wanted to by having a great family and the great creativity that he’d been part of in his career,” Shapiro said. “He was a happy man.”
Reiner’s 70-year friendship with Brooks — the fellow comedy legend he met while working for Sid Caesar on “Your Show of Shows” in the early 1950s — was as strong as ever during Reiner’s final year. The two had reminisced in recent days about the high-wire act of working for Caesar and NBC in the early days of television in New York.
“What they did was so amazing — 90-minute live shows, 39 shows a year,” says Shapiro, who produced the 2017 HBO documentary “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” featuring Reiner, Brooks and other Hollywood nonagenarians.
To the end, Reiner was also engaged with social media, using his Twitter feed to frequently condemn President Donald Trump and opine on social issues. He was proud to have made a statement by donning a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt along with Brooks and daughter Annie Reiner for a photo that went viral after Shapiro tweeted it on June 28.
MY HEROS CARL REINER ANNIE REINER & MEL BROOKS pic.twitter.com/yimJbwoqCU
— George Shapiro (@georgeshapiro) June 28, 2020
For the past year or so, Brooks and other family members have a made a point of spending evenings with Reiner at his Beverly Hills home. That habit will be hard to break, Shapiro admitted.
“Mel was there last night. He’ll keep it up for awhile,” he joked.
The loss of the writer-director-producer and performer behind “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and so many other hits is enormous for Reiner’s close friends and family. But in Shapiro’s view, there’s also a joyful feeling that the artist whose first memoir-ish novel was titled “Enter Laughing” exited the corporeal world with a full heart and a satisfied mind.
“The sad part is you feel sorry for yourself that we’re going to miss him,” Shapiro said. “The good part is that he was able to celebrate his life, and he got the chance to go out the way he wanted to.”
(Pictured: Carl Reiner and George Shapiro)