×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

More TV

  • Five Takes on Canal Plus, Federation’s

    Just Days Left to Catch Canal Plus’ ‘The Bureau’ on MyFFF

    The most lauded of titles on this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online showcase featured by over 50 OTT services around the world, may not be a film but a drama series. With four seasons aired, and a milestone in world sales on a French TV show, slow-boiling espionage series ‘Le Bureau des légendes’ (“The Bureau”) is [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA

    TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA West President, Dies at 91

    Prolific Emmy-nominated television writer Christopher Edwin Knopf, former president of the Writers Guild of America West, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on Feb. 13. He was 91. Knopf was born in New York and attended UCLA, leaving during his senior year to join the Air Force during World War II. He finished [...]

  • Jussie Smollett The Black AIDS Insitute

    Jussie Smollett Case: Two Suspects Released Without Charges as New Evidence Emerges

    After two days of questioning, the Chicago Police Department announced Friday evening that it has released two suspects in the Jussie Smollett case without filing charges. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that detectives had developed new information in the case. Police no longer consider the men to be suspects. “Due to new evidence as a [...]

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content