Bob Smith, the first openly gay male comic to perform on The Tonight Show and star in his own 30-minute HBO special, died Saturday in his New York City home, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“It’s with great sadness, but also a lifetime of happy memories that I’m writing to share that my beloved Bob Smith passed away this morning at age 59 after a remarkable 12-year battle with ALS,” Smith’s partner, Michael Zam, confirmed on Facebook.
“He was the funniest and most optimistic person I’ve ever known, as well as the most committed and stubborn (I’m convinced this last trait kept him going so well for so long).”
Following his groundbreaking 1994 appearances on HBO Comedy Half-Hour and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Smith performed sets on TV shows and specials such as Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher, Wisecrack, and Hot Gay Comics.
Openly Bob, Smith’s 1997 autobiographical essay collection, won the Lambda Book Award for humor. The celebrated author’s other books include Way to Go, Smith, Selfish & Perverse, and Remembrance of Things I Forgot. Smith published his last collection of essays, Treehab: Tales from my Natural Wild Life, in 2016.
As a television writer, Smith wrote for Roseanne, MADtv, and the MTV Video Music Awards.
Smith, who came up in New York’s Greenwich Village comedy scene in the 1980s, first found success with fellow out comedians Danny McWilliams and Jaffe Cohen as “Funny Gay Males.” The trio toured the world and became the first openly gay comedians to perform on national television when they appeared on The Joan Rivers Show.
After being diagnosed with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease, Smith stopped performing live stand-up in 2010.
“Making people laugh has been one of the greatest privileges in my life,” Smith told NewNowNext in a 2016 interview. “I know some people think humor isn’t as important as other things, but it’s a vital component of everything! It allows us to connect with each other, lessen our fears, lighten our work, and bear the unbearable.”
Smith and his partner raised two children together, Madeline and Xander. Zam, co-creator of FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan, says a memorial for Smith will be held at a comedy club in the near future.