Sam Simon, Co-Creator of ‘The Simpsons,’ Dies at 59

Nine-time Emmy winner Sam Simon, who wrote episodes of “Taxi,” “Cheers” and “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” before co-creating landmark animated series “The Simpsons” and eventually becoming a philanthropist, died Sunday of colorectal cancer at his home in Los Angeles, his reps confirmed. He was 59 and was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late 2012.

“Simpsons” showrunner Al Jean also confirmed the news with a tweet on Monday.

Simon shared seven Emmy Awards for “The Simpsons” and two for his work on “The Tracey Ullman Show.”

In 1989 he developed “The Simpsons” with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, and he subsequently co-wrote nearly a dozen “Simpsons” episodes during his tenure on the animated comedy, also serving as co-showrunner, character designer, creative consultant, creative supervisor, developer, and writer. He left the show in 1993 while retaining an exec producer title.

The animated sitcom, he said, gave him more freedom than live action. “You can draw animals and sets but the animated characters also have freedom. The Simpsons sometimes do things that real people wouldn’t do.”

“Sam Simon taught me everything about animation writing, and even more about life,” “The Simpsons” exec producer Al Jean said.

When Simon “turned to writing animation, he helped to give birth to something which changed the landscape of television and has given him a legacy that will live forever,” said Craig Miller, chairman of the Animation Writers Caucus of the Writers Guild of America West, speaking in November 2013 upon the announcement that Simon would receive the AWC’s writing award that month. Al Jean presented the award.

While there is plenty of credit to go around, Ken Levine, a writer on the series, has written, “I’m here to tell you, the real creative force behind ‘The Simpsons’ was Sam Simon. The tone, the storytelling, the level of humor – that was all developed on Sam’s watch.”

Though Simon left “The Simpsons” in 1993 — the early years of the series were internally contentious — he was still credited as an executive producer as the show continued to generate hundreds of episodes over more than two decades, and his severance package ensured that he was a very wealthy man who could spend much of his time on philanthropy and on hobbies outside Hollywood.

Simon was profiled on “60 Minutes” in 2007, after which CBS correspondent Daniel Schorn wrote online that he is “the Renaissance man of the baffling, uncertain age we live in.”

As a writer, Simon also took a stab at the feature arena, penning the 1991 slumlord comedy “The Super,” starring Joe Pesci.

Most recently, he had served as an executive consultant for FX’s Charlie Sheen comedy “Anger Management” in 2012-13 and also directed an episode of the series in 2012.

Fourth-generation Californian Samuel Simon grew up in Beverly Hills and Malibu, then attended Stanford U. While at Stanford he was the cartoonist for the school paper and worked professionally as a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. After graduating in 1977 (he majored in psychology), he worked at animation house Filmation Studios, first as a storyboard artist and then as a writer. He earned his first smallscreen credits there, on “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle,” both in 1979. (Decades later, he told Stanford magazine of “The Simpsons”: “It was largely based on what I didn’t like about the Saturday-morning cartoon shows I worked on. ‘The Simpsons’ would have been a great radio show. If you just listen to the sound track, it works.”)

By the mid-’80s he had long since turned his attention to primetime sitcoms, penning an episode of “Barney Miller”; writing and serving as executive story editor for “Taxi,” acting as showrunner in its final season in 1982-83; and writing and producing for “Cheers.” He wrote three episodes of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and then served as exec producer of “The Tracy Ullman Show” in the late ’80s.

He was creator, exec producer and a writer on brief runner “The George Carlin Show” in 1994-95, and though he made a conscious decision to move away from television work after “Carlin,” he was consulting producer on “The Drew Carey Show” in 1998-2003 as well as a frequent director on that comedy.

Simon parlayed his very serious devotion to poker into the 2009 Playboy TV reality show “Sam’s Game,” and earlier, he had indulged an interest in boxing to the point of managing Lamon Brewster to the World Boxing Organization Heavyweight Championship in 2004. He was also a frequent contributor to “The Howard Stern Show.”

But Simon was also a devoted philanthropist. An animal lover, he funded the Sam Simon Foundation, which rescued dogs, funded a traveling animal surgery clinic assisting the ailing pets of those who otherwise could not afford medical attention for them and provided vegan food for hungry humans. He also supported PETA, which named its Norfolk, Va., HQ the Sam Simon Center; Save the Children; and global marine conservation organization the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which named one of its vessels after him.

After being diagnosed with colon cancer, Simon started buying zoos and circuses to free animals.

Simon received the WGA’s Valentine Davies Award for his humanitarian work.

Simon was married to actress Jennifer Tilly from 1984-91 and to Playboy Playmate Jami Ferrell from 2000-03.

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  1. Cindy Araya says:

    May he rest in peace! The furbabies of the world have lost a major contributor!

  2. Donna S. says:

    While I may have enjoyed watching the Simpsons, Mr. Simon will only be known to me as the source behind the demise of one of the nicest people I have known – Lurlie Adams, former owner of the Valley View Chinchilla Ranch in California. Thanks to Mr. Simon and PETA, not only was the good name and reputation of this well-known ranch crushed, but so was the life of Lurlie and Jim Adams. So much so that it killed Lurlie. So, unfortunately, Mr. Simon is not the saint and wonderful person Hollywood makes him out to be. RIP Lurlie.

  3. Steve Bennet says:

    He was a great guy. I wish more articles would let people also know that he was a lifelong atheist. He doated a lot to have atheist billboards put up, and was a lontime member of American Atheists

  4. nycRed714 says:

    This is what a true HERO looks like!

    I LOVE the fact that he saved so many animals! I hope he inspires more wealthy individuals to do good with their money!

    He was an amazing, generous, exceptional human being.

    R.I.P. – if there is an afterlife I hope you are there and surrounded by the animals you saved!

  5. jody says:

    Sorry that he had to go at such a young age. But he was a very important person and contributed to many worthy causes. My son who is now 21 still watches every episode of the Simpsons. And I am proud to say I also support the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. I also will always proudly have a tattoo that says, WHALE WARS, and names 6 of the ships, including the SAM SIMON! The world needs more of men like him and Captain Paul Watson, men willing to try and save the animals of the world. GOD bless you!

  6. popeye says:

    Rip sam you can now rest in peace the simpsons will continue on tv for many more years but it wont be the same , so sad

  7. Pea Green says:

    Bless you, Sam Simon, you will have animals to comfort you and sit at your feet for eternity. We’ll miss you.

  8. Dave J. says:

    May Sam Simon rest in peace! “The Simpsons” is best cartoon show ever on syndicate.

  9. benaynay says:

    Betting he never smoked cannabis on the reg!

  10. FashionFan says:

    Sam set out to change the world and he did, right up until he was taken from us. I so admire his compassion for every living being.

  11. hey! did JIMBO die again? or do you just keep posting this?

  12. Marsha Waterbury says:

    I attended many of the fund raising events for animals that Sam Simon was either honored or spoke at. He was a devoted animal lover, helper and friend. He is beloved by all in the animal activist community. Our non-human friends on this planet have lost a major, major contributor to their welfare. Rest in Peace, Mr. Simon. and thank you for the kindness you showed.

  13. Atomic Fury says:

    Thanks for all the laughs on “Taxi” and “Cheers” Mr. Simon. May you rest in peace and your family come to peace in their hearts and minds.

  14. I grew up watching The Simpson. :'( This is so sad. :( May he RIP.

  15. TV Gord says:

    Death doesn’t always make me sad, but this one does. I’m sad that someone who has brought me so many laughs would have to end the last few years of his life in such misery. Life is so unfair. So is death.

  16. Robert Mercieca says:

    Sam, you will be missed. Your writing on Taxi and Cheers was simply the best. My heartfelt condolences to his family and his friends in the writing community from a writer and a great fan of excellent writing.

  17. Why is it when the truth, backed up facts about cancer are posted they’re always removed?

  18. KTA says:

    Its people like Sam who really show you what matters in life most, leaving the world a better place then when you came into it. Thank you for your selfless nature and making my childhood special.

  19. RIP. I had the pleasure to work with Mr. Simon once and even play a few hands of poker with him as well. His creative work will live on and his philanthropy will certainly continue to make a great impact in this world.

  20. WhiteDog says:

    Rest in Peace beautiful man.

  21. fuzzysdoll says:

    Go get your colonoscopy at 50!!

  22. thanks for all the laughs! RIP.
    You may help our fundraiser in honour of Sam at http://www.gofundme.com/oco23c

  23. Sam was a casual acquaintance of mine through The Stern Show and in the times we crossed paths he always seemed to be living high and had life by the balls – his philanthropy work was remarkable in the many ways he went about it – he will be missed.

  24. I’m wondering if he ever went for a colonoscopy when he turned 50.A lot of colon cancer has been prevented by an early checkup.

    • Bob Wierdsma says:

      Our doctor sends us a form every two years to check our stools for colon problems and so far I’ve been in the clear. Good idea to get it done – painless too.

  25. Mike Meyer says:

    A motivating figure for me as far back as high school and a cultural icon for the ages, too sad, . . . too sad. Long live “The Dino,” the battle of “hurt ankle” in the math department and all of the fruit of his matchless imagination for the last 50 years.

  26. Alex says:

    God rest him.

  27. Jennifer Cohen says:

    I was born loving animals. I went vegetarian when I was 10-years-old. Back in 1979, and while growing up on Long Island, this was not a common thing for a child to do. I was often teased for “loving carrots”. I did not care; I knew in my heart it was wrong to eat animals. Fast forward years later when I was watching the Simpson’s episode when Lisa went vegetarian. Never before had I connected so strongly with a cartoon character. Lisa was me. I was Lisa.

    While I never had the honor of meeting him, Sam and I had mutual friends and of course I learned all about the wonderful things he did for animals through them and through the media.

    I so admired his dedication to making lives better for so many animals and I had been praying for a miracle for him. The world has lost a true hero. Thank you Mr. Simon for all you have done.

    My condolences to his family and friends. May he rest in peace.

    • Woods says:

      Thank you so much for caring about animals to go vegetarian at such a young age. I loved that episode of the Simpsons with Lisa going vegetarian too! Even as a kid it made me think. Please consider going vegan, as Sam did too for the animals who are still harmed and killed for other products.

  28. Carol says:

    RIP Mr. Simon. Thank you for the laughs on Simpson’s and thank you on behalf of all the animals you’ve helped.

  29. Mentions appearances on The Stern Show, but completely ignores his weekly radio show on RadioIO. If you are going to give the man credit, busted his ass to put on an entertaining show every week despite his suffering!

  30. carlos zedukes says:

    Bles you Sam Simon…your work will here for ever in our hearts and minds….

  31. mypoorhoney says:

    What a great human being.

  32. Terribly sad news. A great man who spoke out for those with no voice, the animals of this planet. One of his many great legacies is the Sea Sheppard ship which carries his name, and takes on the Japanese whale hunters in the Southern Ocean and other criminals who raid the world’s seas and oceans. On behalf of all the animals you have saved and helped, thank you Sam Simon. Also thanks too for your fantastic contribution to entertainment.

  33. Nick Turner says:

    59? what a shame. Thank you Sam for shedding so much light in a pretty dark age. Condolences first to family and friends. Then to the rest of us. We have all lost a treasure.

  34. Anwar Sosa says:

    Why so valuable people goes away? Without doubt Sam SImon has left a legacy not only to animation but also to animals. Thank you for your work and passion, and for give us The SImpsons along with Matt and James

  35. Bernadette says:

    Much thanks to Sam Simon. Your foundation sAved the life of one of my pets. I will always be grateful for your generosity.

  36. Chelsea says:

    RIP Sam, thank you for making Sunday nights the fun nights for many viewers around the world.

  37. Ty Savoy says:

    Such a wonderful man.

  38. RIP Sam! Thank You for so many years of The Simpsons and your Worldwide work in the Loving treatment of Animals! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

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