Nine-time Emmy Award-winning writer and producer Sam Simon, best known as the co-developer of “The Simpsons,” has died at the age of 59. He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2012, with an initial prognosis of only three-to-six months to live, but fought the disease for over two-years before passing away in his Los Angeles home on March 8 from complications from the disease.
The Stanford graduate began his Hollywood career in 1979 at Filmation Studios, initially drawing storyboards and then as a writer on animated shows like “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” He graduated to the sitcom world as a creative force behind classics such as “Taxi,” “Cheers,” “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “The Tracey Ullman Show” before launching “The Simpsons” on Fox in 1989, along with James L. Brooks and creator Matt Groening.
Considered by many to be the major unifying voice of the phenomenally successful animated show, Simon was responsible for recruiting the writing staff and creating iconic characters including Mr. Burns and Chief Wiggum. As showrunner his emphasis on character-based humor helped ground “The Simpsons” but also caused friction with many on the staff, particularly Groening who famously did not get along with him, which led to Simon’s resignation after the fourth season.
“I probably was crazy when I was doing The Simpsons,” Simon said. “But my pulse used to be really low, my blood pressure used to be really low, and I could be screaming at someone on the phone, yelling at the network, I might even be throwing some stuff, but my blood pressure wouldn’t go up. My heartbeat wouldn’t go up. Because I was doing a bit. Shtick. Pretending to be that mad to get my way. Which is not a good way to do it. I don’t suggest it.”
After negotiating a rich severance package that gave him a piece of “The Simpsons,” including merchandising, Simon continued to work in television (“The George Carlin Show,” “The Drew Carey Show,” “Anger Management”) while also developing a passion for poker that eventually led to his own reality program, “Sam’s Game,” which aired on Playboy TV. He also managed 2004 boxing heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster.
Simon began using most of his $100-million fortune for philanthropic causes, including his own The Sam Simon Foundation as well as Save the Children, LA’s Feeding Families program, and many animal-based organizations such as PETA or the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, for whom he purchased a vessel for their fleet in 2012 (the MY Sam Simon).
“A lot of it is selfish,” said Simon. “I get to watch these animals that have been in concrete bunkers their whole life, I get to watch them take their first steps on grass, I get to fly my friends out. They’re dependent on us for that and so I feel that it’s my responsibility to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
Simon was married to actress Jennifer Tilly (Bullets Over Broadway) from 1984 to 1991 and remained friends with her until his death.
Here are just a few of the many heartfelt tributes on Twitter for Sam Simon:
(Photo Credit: WENN)