Chris Thompson was on the verge of closing a deal for a pilot at Amazon that he hoped would be the start of a career turnaround. Just a few days ago, he sent a text message to his daughter Lola asking where she wanted to go to celebrate her birthday.
But on Friday evening, the veteran TV comedy writer, known for his hard-partying lifestyle and professional highs and lows, was found dead at the Toluca Lake home of actor Tim Curry, his longtime friend. He was 63.
Thompson’s death was confirmed by his ex-wife, director-producer Lyndall Hobbs. She said Thompson was discovered unconscious by a caregiver at Curry’s home on Friday night. An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of death, Hobbs said.
Thompson’s career stretched from the mid-1970s, when he got a break from a producer who admired his improv comedy performance, through series and pilots ranging from “Bosom Buddies,” which marked Tom Hanks’ breakout vehicle, to the biting Fox showbiz satire “Action.” But his fortunes had been at a low ebb in the five years since he launched the Disney Channel series “Shake It Up!”
“He had a very tough time,” Hobbs said. “He couldn’t figure out what to write, and he couldn’t get a job.” He’d been staying with Curry out of necessity, she said.
About two months ago, Thompson got a call from his one-time agent, WME chieftain Ari Emanuel, with an offer to write an edgy comedy pilot for Amazon. It was based on an Israeli property dubbed “Red Band,” about a womanizing, drug-taking rock star played by a life-size puppet. Thompson was well-suited to handle the project, given his life experience.
“He was going to have the final meeting with Amazon on Tuesday,” Hobbs said. “We are just shocked,” Hobbs said late Saturday.
Born in Detroit, Thompson moved to Los Angeles with his family around the age of 12. He attended Fairfax High School but never graduated. He had run-ins with the law as a juvenile but eventually became active as a comedy performer and writer. He was introduced to Garry Marshall, then riding high on the success of multiple sitcoms, who gave him a job on the short-lived series “Blansky’s Beauties.” That led him to a long stint on Marshall’s ABC hit “Laverne & Shirley.”
By 1980, Thompson created his first sitcom, ABC’s “Bosom Buddies,” which is notable for giving a young Hanks an important career boost. The series starred Hanks and Peter Scolari as friends who disguised themselves as women in order to secure an affordable apartment in New York City. It only lasted two seasons but remains a pop culture touchstone.
Through the 1990s Thompson’s credits as a writer-producer included comedies “The Naked Truth,” “Ladies Man” and HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show.” The pilot for “Action,” starring Jay Mohr as a venal producer of B-grade movies, was originally produced for HBO but wound up landing a series order at Fox in 1999. It generated a great deal of industry buzz for its many inside jokes, but lasted less than a season. Today, it’s seen as a forerunner of inside-showbiz comedies such as HBO’s “Entourage.”
After “Action,” Thompson suffered another career downturn. His reputation for excess didn’t help his cause, but he was well-regarded by fellow comedy writers for his skill in crafting pilots and stories.
“He had his problems with booze,” Hobbs acknowledged. “He was the naughty boy of TV comedy, but he ran a writers room like nobody else, and he knew comedy structure better than anybody.”
Despite not finishing high school, Thompson was “a big reader and as smart as they come,” Hobbs said. Thompson and Hobbs were married briefly in the late 1980s, around the time Hobbs directed the 1987 comedy “Back to the Beach,” which Thompson wrote.
Thompson’s other film credits included the screenplay for 1986’s “Jumping Jack Flash.”
Thompson was in good spirits on June 20 when he attended the opening of an art show at the New Image gallery in Hollywood that featured works by his daughter with Hobbs, artist Lola R. Thompson, now 28. “He was excited about his big comeback,” Hobbs said. “He was telling everyone that the project with Amazon was making him almost relevant again.”
Survivors include his current wife, Curran Sympson Thompson; daughter Lola; a son, Richard, and daughter, Taylor, from a previous marriage.
Since his death, several TV stars have taken to social media to remember Thompson, including “Shake It Up!” stars Zendaya and Bella Thorne.
In a statement, Adam Bonnett, executive vice president of original programming of Disney Channels Worldwide, said, “Chris loved to make people laugh but he made audiences care about a character first and then he made them funny. As we mourn his passing, we celebrate his life and the opportunity we had to work with him on a series that connected with millions of young viewers around the world.”