Access Hollywood is reporting that Garry Marshall has died, at the age of 81. A big-voiced showman with a thick, hearty Bronx accent, Marshall helped invent the modern sitcom with shows like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, and launched the careers of some of the most popular stars of the 20th and 21st centuries. His tenure in Hollywood spanned nearly 60 years, stretching from writing jokes for the Jack Parr version of The Tonight Show, all the way to recent performances on BoJack Horseman and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Marshall got his start pitching gags to comics like Joey Bishop and Phil Foster, before working his way into the writing rooms of shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Lucy Show. From there, he slowly rose up the sitcom ladder, producing on The Odd Couple and other, more short-lived sitcoms, before striking gold with Happy Days in 1974. From that Fonzie-shaped grip on the public consciousness, Marshall built a TV empire for himself, with shows like Joanie Loves Chachi, Laverne & Shirley—starring his sister and frequent collaborator Penny—and Mork & Mindy all extending his cultural reach. (The latter series also introducing America to a young comedian by the name of Robin Williams.)
As his high-profile TV successes lost steam in the 1980s, Marshall refused to fade away, re-inventing himself as a director of film. Tending toward comedies with a hint of melodrama, Marshall’s numerous successes in the cinematic field include The Princess Diaries films, and the Bette Midler vehicle Beaches. But he’ll likely be best remembered for Pretty Woman, an improbable love story that utterly cemented Julia Roberts’ position as America’s sexy, spunky sweetheart. (It also provided a meaty, Golden Globe-nominated role for Marshall’s friend Hector Elizondo, who appeared—by contractual mandate on Marshall’s part—in every single one of the director’s films.)
Although his directorial output grew less focused—if still lucrative—in later years, Marshall continued to work actively as a writer and actor, giving spirited performances in everything from Pinky & The Brain—where he played a Faustian figure tempting the titular mouse into even further acts of evil—to his sister Penny’s own A League Of Their Own. (His thick accent and boundless enthusiasm also inspired an affectionate and long-lasting impression from comedian and actor Paul F. Tompkins.) His final screen performance was on the recent reboot of The Odd Couple, where he played the father of Matthew Perry’s Oscar Madison, in a tribute to his long legacy with the Neil Simon play.
It would be impossible to overstate Garry Marshall’s importance to the pop culture landscape of the 20th century, or reduce it to a listing of shows or roles. In many ways, his work defined that landscape, shaping the very vocabulary we use to discuss it. After all, there’d be no “jumping the shark” without Fonzie, and no Fonzie without Marshall, and his famous efforts to keep the leather jacket on Henry Winkler’s back. Winkler, meanwhile, was one of several celebrities—including Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda—who took to social media tonight to pay tribute to Marshall’s life, and to his work as one of the greatest king- and queenmakers in all of Hollywood history.
A publicist for Marshall’s family confirmed his death earlier tonight.