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.