The essence of comedy giant Carl Reiner

Carl Reiner, a founding father of TV comedy
Carl Reiner, a founding father of TV comedy 07:30

"First thing in the morning before I have coffee, I read the obits," Carl Reiner told "Sunday Morning" correspondent Tracy Smith in 2015. "If I'm not in it, I'll have breakfast."

Even when discussing something grim (as when he feigned dying in the middle of an interview, described as being the way he'd like to go), Reiner, who died last week at 98, couldn't help but sound sunny.

"He was rare in that I can't remember him being in a bad mood, or him telling me about a bad mood," said legendary TV writer and producer Norman Lear, now 97. He was close friends with Reiner for more than 50 years.

Correspondent Mo Rocca asked, "This may be a little hokey, but what do you think kept him going so long?"

"The same thing that keeps me going so long: We both like getting up in the morning!" Lear laughed. "And he missed it today. He missed it today."

Mobster Carl Reiner (right) gets in the face of Sid Caesar on "Your Show of Shows." NBC

Carl Reiner didn't miss a lot. One of television comedy's founding fathers, Reiner first came into our homes as a featured player on Your Show of Shows," in which he was second banana to Sid Caesar.

Rocca asked, "What made him so good in that role?"

"Carl had no need to be the principal in anything," Lear replied. "A lot of comics do. And so, he could be very funny as a sidekick and a straight man."

Reiner is probably best known for creating "The Dick Van Dyke Show," which began airing on CBS in 1961.  It starred Dick Van Dyke as the head writer of a fictional TV program. Reiner played the blowhard host, Alan Brady.

Dick Van Dyke - Mary Tyler Moore's Apology by GetKempt on YouTube

Van Dyke praised Reiner as "a mensch. The greatest human being I've ever met in my life. Unique, irreplaceable man. For some reason, Carl had a deep understanding about human behavior, and what motivated people to do what they do.

"I found myself going to his office for answers about life, about raising my kids, about family. And I learned so much from him. He kind of created me, along with creating Rob Petrie."

Van Dyke graced us with some of the little-known lyrics to the show's theme:

So, you think that you've got trouble,
well, trouble's a bubble.
So tell old Mr. Trouble to get lost. …
A smile is just a frown that's turned upside-down.
So, smile and that frown will defrost.
And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed. 

"Carl understood there's no such thing as an adult – an adult is this costume and mannerism that the kid puts on in order to make it through life," Van Dyke said.

There was no venue where Reiner didn't kill – on stage, on TV, as a film director and sometime actor. And remember comedy albums? He and Mel Brooks had one of the biggest with "The 2,000-Year-Old Man," with Reiner once again playing the straight man.

The 2000 Year Old Man - 1967 by The Official MEL BROOKS Channel on YouTube

"That's 100% Carl Reiner," said Lear. "And that's why he worked so well with Mel. Because Mel will tell you himself, he needed to be upfront. And Carl was a champion from the sides."

Carl and Mel were a match made in comedy heaven. But Reiner's lifelong costar was his beloved wife Estelle. The pair reminisced, about their first meeting back in 2007, with Tracy Smith.

Carl and Estelle Reiner. CBS News

"I had a lot of hair in those days, black hair, wavy!" Carl said.

"No, no, he was really good-looking," Estelle said. "I said, tall, dark and handsome."

Ten years later, after Estelle had passed away, Reiner reflected: "Having a good marriage, and good children. A good life is what you send out to the world. I have three children, non-toxic children, all have done great things, and are continuing to do great things. And I had a marriage of 65 years. That's the only thing that really defines me."

There's a stereotype about comics being dark. Carl Reiner was all light. A few days ago, Norman Lear's son-in-law, CBS News' own Dr. Jon LaPook, sent us a video clip of Carl Reiner greeting Lear at a party in 2000:

CBS News

Lear told Rocca, "It's strange to say it in the season of coronavirus, but he was a great hugger. It's a gem, that little bit of photography of him hugging me. That, in a sense, is the essence of Carl also."

"And it sounds like he loved being with his friends," Rocca said.

"There was never a better friend," said Lear. "The L.A. Times obit talked about pure joy. And that's what he brought to everything. Pure joy."

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Story produced by John D'Amelio and Jay Kernis. Editor: Steven Tyler.