Mort Sahl Dies at 94

( Iconic satirist Mort Sahl passed away on Tuesday at the age of 94. According to his friend Lucy Mercer, Sahl died peacefully at his Mill Valley, California home.

Sahl helped revolutionize stand-up comedy during the Cold War with his running commentary on current events and politicians. While most comedians in the 50s and 60 dressed in tuxedos, Sahl appeared wearing slacks and a sweater, carrying a rolled-up newspaper on which he pasted notes for his act. He would read news items to the audience, then interject his trademark cutting commentary.

Sahl began his career in San Francisco in 1953. When word of his distinctive style of comedy spread, Sahl was soon earning $7,500 a week at nightclubs across the country and began appearing on television with Steve Allen and Jack Paar. He appeared in the films “In Love and War” (1958) and “All the Young Men” (1960). And by 1960, he was on the cover of TIME magazine and was profiled in The New Yorker.

Sahl was a big supporter of John F. Kennedy. During the 1960 presidential campaign, he even wrote jokes for JFK’s stump speeches.

When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Sahl was devastated. He became convinced that JFK’s murder was part of a CIA plot, and he accused the government of a cover-up. In the end, he devoted so much of his monologue to reading passages from the Warren Commission report, audiences stopped coming to his shows.

His comedic style inspired a new generation of comedians including Bill Cosby, George Carlin, and the team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. His iconoclastic tradition was continued by David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver – at least back when Colbert and Oliver were funny.

Morton Lyon Sahl was born on May 11, 1927, in Montreal. His family moved to the United States where Sahl’s father, Harry, worked for the Department of Justice in various cities until they eventually settled in Los Angeles.

After high school, Sahl joined the Air Force and spent 31 months stationed in Alaska where he edited the base newspaper “Poop from the Group.”

Sahl was married in 1955 to Sue Berger but divorced two years later. He married again in 1967 to former Playboy Playmate China Lee. They also divorced.