The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. Simon was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in November 2012. He was 59.
Simon began drawing professionally while he was a student at Stanford, publishing sports cartoons in The San Francisco Chronicle. He eventually went on to work as a writer and producer on television shows including Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Cheers, and Taxi.
He began working with cartoonist Matt Groening on The Simpsons in 1989, helping to hire many of the show’s initial writers and insisting they work together on creating each episode. This Salon piece discusses his role in defining the tone of the show’s humor and establishing the characters’ relationships.
As recounted in the New York Times obituary, Simon and Groening did not see eye to eye, and Simon left the show in 1993 after just four seasons. “Any show I’ve ever worked on, it turns me into a monster,” Simon told 60 Minutes in 2007. “I go crazy; I hate myself.” Simon, however, retained his title as executive producer and continued to receive tens of millions in annual royalties from the show. Groening, for his part, respected Simon’s contributions. “I think Sam Simon is brilliantly funny and one of the smartest writers I’ve ever worked with, although unpleasant and mentally unbalanced,” Groening once said.
Simon donated much of his wealth to charities, including groups like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as through his own Sam Simon Foundation. PETA released this tribute video yesterday:
In 2013, he appeared on comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast to speak about his cancer diagnosis, where he announced his intentions to donate most of his remaining Simpsons royalties to charity.
Many former Simpsons colleagues have been expressing their condolences on Twitter, giving an indication of how highly he was valued as a creative person:
Sam Simon's contribution to the spirit of sharp, well-observed comedy is incalculable. Awful to lose such a gifted & genuinely good guy.
— Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) March 9, 2015
Just heard that @simonsam passed away. Brilliant writer, so vital to shaping THE SIMPSONS in its crucial early years. Rest in peace, Sam.
— Brad Bird (@BradBirdA113) March 9, 2015
— David Silverman (@tubatron) March 9, 2015
— Al Jean (@AlJean) March 9, 2015
Rest in Peace Sam Simon, absolutely unparalleled creative and comic genius
— Bill Oakley (@thatbilloakley) March 9, 2015
Sam Simon, you gave the world something amazing & wonderful. Sounds corny, but thank you for the gift of laughter. You are so missed.
— Josh Weinstein (@Joshstrangehill) March 9, 2015
Other co-workers and admirers, like Garry Shandling, Ricky Gervais, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, and Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch have also been expressing their condolences:
Sam Simon wrote on my first series, IGSS. Sam was like a hilarious hurricane in the writer's room. His force will be missed. #RIPSamSimon
— Garry Shandling (@GarryShandling) March 9, 2015
RIP Sam Simon. Heroic humanitarian & genius co-creator of The Simpsons. D'oh, indeed.
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) March 9, 2015
Had the mind of Sam Simon not paved the way for all of us in primetime animation, I wouldn't have a job. He will be sorely missed.
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) March 10, 2015
I am who I am because of The Simpsons, and The Simpsons is what it is because of Sam Simon. He made something immortal #ThankYouSam
— Alex Hirsch (@_AlexHirsch) March 9, 2015