Veteran Comedy Writer Chris Thompson Dies On Eve Of Comeback Bid

Chris Thompson dead Shake It Up
Courtesy of Zendaya/Instagram

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.”

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  1. Hang Sang says:

    Well, Adam Bonnett, at least you celebrated working with him for a year until you fired him. Just keep quiet.

  2. frazynut says:

    PURE factual errors. Chris was waiting on his house to be ready to move into. Tim was about his best friend so he was staying there, about 4 blocks from the house he was about to move into, on La Maida. Chris was not desperate in any way I could ever tell. If so he was the greatest actor in history. Did he like to drink, probably get high? Yes. And that probably killed him. But he wasn’t on skid row. He was by most measures a wild success. “almost relevant” was not to be interpreted literally, you idiots. He was happy last I saw him which was VERY recently. He was bemused by his Amazon show. He told me: “I can’t believe they still pay me for this!” He was excited about the content. Could care less about the money. He was excited about writing that puppet! So funny. A comeback is not…… about to start yet another show, in his 60’s. That’s called a GREAT CAREER. The Obit was a poorly thought-out, undoubtedly one-sourced p.o.s. Didn’t even mention all the kids names. WTF Variety?

    • CTG says:

      THANK YOU “Frazynut” for putting so emotionally and eloquently what has had me dumbstruck since I heard the news and read this fact-lacking ‘p.o.s’ as you so accurately nailed it. He often said “don’t pull the plug, cuz I’m comin’ back” and man oh man, he should come back now just to put a plug in smug inferences attempting to use an untimely loss to make themselves ‘relevant.’

      Part of his charm was an ability to shake off jealousy and self-righteousness like water off a duck’s back, and he wouldn’t want us wasting our time on wannabees. But I’m pretty sure he’d be annoyed over the comment about not graduating from Fairfax… It was Hollywood High.

  3. Alison Bjork says:

    Excuse me if I am confused, but is this an article/obituary about Chris Thompson or a vehicle for his wife of less than one year to speak ill of her ex-husband? My sister Tracy Thompson was married to Chris for 17 years and is the mother of his children Richard and Taylor. We all still love Chris and are aware of his ups and downs having lived through many of them with him. As a family we hope the world will remember Chris for his amazing wit and the laughs he brought to all of us.

    • scott banac says:

      I thought the same, I have spent more time LRT than Richard or Taylor (as they were
      babies)…but their exclusion was in bad taste

  4. BillUSA says:

    We who live fast die young and I’m lucky to have survived after decades of my excesses. While it is always a shame to lose someone at any age, losing someone in their 60’s is enough to make one say that it is too young to go. But from all accounts, this man lived a life that many can only dream of and while it is easy to conclude that his love of vodka may have been his downfall, it is his love of craft that brought laughter to many lives. Those who knew him are the most blessed, but we all lost a treasure. Thank you Mr. Thompson and my condolences to his family.

  5. Skoonix says:

    My first sitcom job involved Chris Thompson as the punch-up guy. He was amazing – sharp and fast. He took me under his wing cuz I made him laugh. He taught me so much about comedy and writing. Sad news that Chris is gone at 63. R.I.P. to a truly talented writer.

  6. vp19 says:

    RIP to a fine comedy writer. My favorite series of his was “The Naked Truth,” oe at least its first season on ABC. Tea Leoni — back in the days when people saw her as a future Lucille Ball or Carole Lombard, not as a pompous ersatz Hillary Clinton — was brilliant as a supermarket tabloid photographer, and the writing was crisp and superb. Alas, ABC declined to pick it up, NBC did and placed it in its mid-’90s sitcom formula machine (think “Suddenly Susan”), removing all its edge and distinctiveness. It suffered a rapid death.

    • cadavra says:

      Well, it wasn’t rapid–it limped along for two more years. But yes, it was depressing as hell watching such a fearless comedy actress turned into MTM-lite. And while she’s a superb dramatic actor, as MADAM SECRETARY proves, I can’t help wishing someone would find her a great comedy role again.

  7. srvwp2013 says:

    As Bob Dylan and Buffalo Springfield both expressed, there is something happening here and we don’t exactly know what it is, but there is a rash of deaths of people in their early 60’s that has broken out. We all know that we are not going to live forever, but this daily preponderance of the early loss of a generation indicates that something is not correct in civilization. The toxicity of life itself is drawing down the population.

  8. rdundee says:

    Chris gave me my first job when he didn’t have to. He gave me my second job when he didn’t have to. Shortly after working with him, he offered to leave the offices and drive out to my house with me so we could attend to a menacing series of phone calls that had freaked out my wife. This was when he was the executive producer and I was an apprentice and he didn’t know me from Adam. The man was kind, funny and generous. I knew him decades ago only, but have thought about the impression he made on me numerous times over the years. May he rest in peace.

  9. Bob Heath says:

    Truly, one of the funniest comedy writers on the planet. I worked with him on one series and will forever miss his genius. It was unfortunate that he had such a hard time keeping his life in order. God bless Chris Thompson.

  10. Jeffrey says:

    Chris is where the term “crazy talented” comes from. Magnetic, suductive, frustrating, brilliant, and, oh, what the hell, another frustrating. May he live on in syndication for eternity.

  11. Lynda Obst says:

    Chris was inspired and hilarious and of course tortured by a disease that ultimately beat him. My condolences to Lola and may his brilliance live on through her work,

  12. Anonymous says:

    He shared his comedy with people, but also his demons.

  13. Lori says:

    I would bet my own life that 99% of his life he was the most brilliant man in the room, but felt no need to show off, his one liners were enough to turn heads. He made a mark – a fan of vodka, yes, but what he loved more than anything was to make people laugh. It was his magnetism and that he really got people. He could connect with anyone instantaneously, though he didn’t care for most people. He was a specimen of humankind that I have never experienced and sadly doubt I will come in contact with anyone like him again. He was a genius- of that I am sure. Everyone who knew him, loved him- and if they didn’t- they didn’t get it-and I feel sorry for them. Chris Thompson- you will always be missed and the world was changed on 6-26. You weren’t done here or maybe we weren’t ready for you to leave.

  14. lisa m says:

    Chris Thompson was an exceptional writer and good friend. Yes, money was tight but he stayed at
    Tim Curry’s house because he had grown to realize how wonderful it felt to be of service – and I believe that their living in the same house was a mutually healing experience for both of them. They were close friends who emotionally supported each other during dark periods in their lives.
    This is a tragedy for so many reasons and I am in shock and denial this evening. If this were a tv show,
    I would wake up tomorrow having realized that it was all a bad dream.

    Chris would never tolerate such a cheesy ending.

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