Sam Simon, the longtime TV writer and producer and nine-time Emmy winner best known as one of the co-creators of The Simpsons, died Sunday after a long battle with colorectal cancer, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean has confirmed. He was 59.
Simon began his career as a storyboard artist and writer at the animation house Filmation Studios, where he earned his first onscreen credits on Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids and The New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse And Heckle And Jeckle. By the ’80s, however, he had turned his attention to primetime sitcoms, where he worked as a writer and producer on Cheers, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and Taxi. (He also served as showrunner for the first season of Taxi.) In the late ’80s he executive produced The Tracey Ullman Show, a gig that led into his most famous work, co-creating The Simpsons with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks.
Simon left The Simpsons in 1993, but during his time at the show he was involved with many aspects of production, including co-showrunner, character designer, creative consultant, creative supervisor, developer, and writer. Simon co-wrote nine episodes of the show between 1989 and 1992, including “The Telltale Head,” “Two Cars In Every Garage And Three Eyes On Every Fish,” and “The Way We Was,” and wrote “The Raven” segment in the inaugural “Treehouse Of Horror.”
But Simon’s major contribution to The Simpsons was in shaping the show’s sensibility, which Simon said was an attempt to correct the flaws of the animated shows he worked on early in his career. Although he may not have received writing credit for those episodes, he pitched many ideas that were later used on the show, as he did with the “Land Of Chocolate” sequence from “Burns Verkaufen Der Kraftwerk.” Former Simpsons writer Ken Levine has said about Simon, “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.” Simon retained an executive producer credit after leaving The Simpsons.
After The Simpsons, Simon co-created the short-lived tennis prodigy sitcom Phenom and worked as a writer and executive producer on the also short-lived The George Carlin Show from 1994-1995. He made a conscious decision to turn away from television after that, although he did serve as a consulting producer on The Drew Carey Show and the IFC comedy Z Rock, as well as directing the odd sitcom episode. But Simon mostly devoted himself to philanthropy through his Sam Simon Foundation, which sponsored a traveling animal surgery clinic as well as providing free meals to the hungry. He also supported PETA, Save The Children, and the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society—which named a ship after him—and after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, he announced his intention to donate his entire $100 million fortune to charity after his death.