LOS ANGELES -- Sid Caesar, the prodigiously talented pioneer of TV comedy who paired with Imogene Coca in sketches that became classics and who inspired a generation of famous writers, died early Wednesday. He was 91.

Caesar died at his home in the Los Angeles area after a brief illness, family spokesman Eddy Friedfeld said.

In his two most important shows, "Your Show of Shows," 1950-54, and "Caesar's Hour," 1954-57, Caesar displayed remarkable skill in pantomime, satire, mimicry, dialect and sketch comedy. And he gathered a stable of young writers who went on to worldwide fame in their own right -- including Neil Simon and Woody Allen.

"The one great star that television created and who created television was Sid Caesar," said critic Joel Siegel on the TV documentary "Hail Sid Caesar! The Golden Age Of Comedy," which first aired in 2001.

While best known for his TV shows, which have been revived on DVD in recent years, he also had success on Broadway and occasional film appearances, notably in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World."

If the typical funnyman was tubby or short and scrawny, Caesar was tall and powerful, with a clown's loose limbs and rubbery face, and a trademark mole on his left cheek.

But Caesar never went in for clowning or jokes. He wasn't interested. He insisted that the laughs come from the everyday.

"Real life is the true comedy," he said in a 2001 interview with The Associated Press. "Then everybody knows what you're talking about." Caesar brought observational comedy to TV before the term, or such latter-day practitioners as Jerry Seinfeld, were even born.

The son of Jewish immigrants, Caesar was a wizard at spouting melting-pot gibberish that parodied German, Russian, French and other languages. His Professor was the epitome of goofy Germanic scholarship.

Some compared him to Charlie Chaplin for his success at combining humor with touches of pathos.

"As wild an idea as you get, it won't go over unless it has a believable basis to start off with," he told The Associated Press in 1955. "The viewers have to see you basically as a person first, and after that you can go on into left field."

Caesar performed with such talents as Howard Morris and Nanette Fabray, but his most celebrated collaborator was the brilliant Coca, his "Your Show of Shows" co-star.

Coca and Caesar performed skits that satirized the everyday -- marital spats, inane advertising, strangers meeting and speaking in cliches, a parody of the Western "Shane" in which the hero was "Strange."

They staged a waterlogged spoof of the love scene in "From Here to Eternity." ''The Hickenloopers" husband-and-wife skits became a staple.

Caesar worked closely with his writing staff as they found inspiration in silent movies, foreign films and the absurdities of '50s postwar prosperity.

Among those who wrote for Caesar: Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Simon and his brother Danny Simon, and Allen.

Carl Reiner, who wrote in addition to performing on the show, based his "Dick Van Dyke Show" -- with its fictional TV writers and their temperamental star -- on his experiences there. Simon's 1993 "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" and the 1982 movie "My Favorite Year" also were based on the Caesar show.

A 1996 round-table discussion among Caesar and his writers was turned into a public television special. Said Simon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright: "None of us who've gone on to do other things could have done them without going through this show."

Increasing ratings competition from Lawrence Welk's variety show put "Caesar's Hour" off the air in 1957.

In 1962, Caesar starred on Broadway in the musical "Little Me," written by Simon, and was nominated for a Tony. He played seven different roles, from a comically perfect young man to a tyrannical movie director to a prince of an impoverished European kingdom.

Caesar was born in 1922 in Yonkers, N.Y., the third son of an Austrian-born restaurant owner and his Russian-born wife. His first dream was to become a musician, and he played saxophone in bands in his teens.

But as a youngster waiting tables at his father's luncheonette, he liked to observe as well as serve the diverse clientele, and recognize the humor happening before his eyes.

His talent for comedy was discovered when he was serving in the Coast Guard during World War II and got a part in a Coast Guard musical, "Tars and Spars." He also appeared in the movie version. Wrote famed columnist Hedda Hopper: "I hear the picture's good, with Sid Caesar a four-way threat. He writes, sings, dances and makes with the comedy."