- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Bob Newhart, the low-key comic who has entertained millions without vulgarity, props or raising his voice, will be the fifth recipient of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Mr. Newhart, 72, will receive the honor Oct. 29, the Kennedy Center announced yesterday.

The droll comic's wizened and clean mutterances fueled an enduring comic persona, punctuated by one of television's most beloved shows, "The Bob Newhart Show."

Mr. Newhart, who has four children with his wife, Virginia Quinn, said in a statement: "Mark Twain once said, 'It is strange the way the ignorant and inexperienced so often and so undeservedly succeed when the informed and the experienced fail,' which is certainly true in this case."

Mr. Newhart's career began innocuously enough at an advertising agency, where he entertained himself by carrying on funny phone conversations with a co-worker. When his friend had had his fill of the bit, Mr. Newhart spoke for both of them, an echo of what would be his calling card, his hilarious one-sided phone chats.

He shipped samples of his humor to the "Bob & Ray" syndicated radio show and later landed a record deal with Warner Bros. The fruits of that collaboration, "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," became the first comedy album to hit No. 1 on the charts.

More albums followed, as did a procession of stand-up concerts featuring his gentle stammer and wry observations.

He didn't truly establish a beachhead in our cultural landscape, though, until his eponymous sitcom debuted in 1972. The series, paired with "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" on CBS' schedule, represented arguably situation comedy's finest hour.

At www.jumptheshark.com, the snarky site where visitors vote as to when a television show's quality level goes south, most voted that "The Bob Newhart Show" never "jumped."

A decade after its debut, Mr. Newhart returned to television in "Newhart."

New cast, new setting, same ol' Bob. The show's quirky characters, set against his Vermont innkeeper's dry delivery, powered it through eight seasons and a memorable finale.

Entertainment Weekly magazine picked its final episode, in which Mr. Newhart awoke next to his previous TV wife, Suzanne Pleshette, as if he had dreamed the eight seasons of "Newhart," as the greatest series kicker in history.

The former copywriter tried the sitcom format two more times, with 1992's "Bob" and 1997's "George & Leo," co-starring Judd Hirsch, but neither could match the success of his previous efforts.

More recently, he co-starred in last year's Showtime film "The Sports Pages," and before that, he played alongside Kevin Kline in 1997's "In and Out." His film resume includes 1970's "Catch 22" and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," plus 1971's "Cold Turkey."

The Oak Park, Ill. native, who still performs his clever comedy routines nationwide, blends classic material with gags swiped from today's headlines.

Previous recipients of the Mark Twain Prize have been Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner and Whoopi Goldberg.

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