Sam Simon — a nine-time Emmy winner who co-created The Simpsons with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks and later became showrunner — died Sunday at his home in Pacific Palisades, CA, after a very public battle with cancer. He was 59. His foundation made the announcement on Facebook: “It is with much sadness that we must let you know that Sam Simon has passed over. We all miss him, and in his honor, we will continue bringing his vision to light through our work at The Sam Simon Foundation. We take comfort in knowing how many greetings he is receiving across that Rainbow Bridge.”
Simon, a longtime vegan and tireless supporter of animal rights, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in late 2012 and had been giving away most of his fortune to save animals from harmful and abusive situations worldwide. Last year he gave Fusion exclusive access to the final months of his life, allowing the network to document “the powerful and emotional story of his fight in two battles — one against cancer and another for animal rights,” the network said then.
Longtime Simpsons exec producer Al Jean said today in a statement: “He was a genius and a great humanitarian in ways public and private. I personally owe him more than can be repaid, but I will do my best to help every animal I can in his memory.”
Last year, the WGA presented Simon with its Valentine Davies Award, given to a person whose contributions to the entertainment industry and the community-at-large have brought dignity and honor to writers everywhere. In accepting the award, he said. “Two things I would ask of you tonight: 1) If you’re over 40, get yourself a colonoscopy. 2) Tell someone that you haven’t told yet that you love them. I know to some people in this room, the colonoscopy sounds better, but do the best you can.” Watch the speech above.
Simon amassed a mantel-ful of Emmys during his career, and along with eight for The Simpsons he scored one for the Fox series that spawned it: The Tracey Ullman Show, which was part of Fox’s slate when the network launched in 1987. He also scored writing Emmy noms for Taxi, Cheers and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in the 1980s; created, directed and exec produced The George Carlin Show in the mid-’90s; and a was a producer on The Drew Carey Show and Z Rock.
The Simpsons began as a series on vignettes on Tracey Ullman before Fox ordered it to series. He left the show in 1993 but struck a deal to retain an EP credit. It has gone on to become a worldwide phenomenon and the longest-running scripted primetime series in U.S. history.
Born on June 6, 1955 in Los Angeles, Simon was a newspaper cartoonist at Stanford before landing a job as a storyboard artist at Filmation Studios. He began writing for TV and earned credits for Barney Miller and Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids before getting his big break on the critically acclaimed series Taxi, which Brooks co-created. Simon and Brooks went on to work together on Cheers and Tracey Ullman before moving on to The Simpsons. They later collaborated on the 2012 telethon Stand Up To Cancer. Along with his TV credits, Simon also the 1991 Joe Pesci comedy feature The Super.
“Today in writers rooms on sitcoms, they require three jokes per page; they have checkmarks on the pages of how many jokes there are,” Simon told the Archive of American Television in 2013. “I don’t buy it. I don’t think the audience cares about it, and I don’t think it’s good writing. [Cheers foils] Sam and Diane going at it for three pages where it’s subtext and the audience knows there’s going to be a payoff is great TV, but no one does it anymore.”
Along with his entertainment career, Simon became a vocal activist for animal rights, serving as longtime member of the PETA national board. In 2011, he founded The Sam Simon Foundation: Feeding Families, a mobile vegan food bank that currently feeds 400 unemployed families each day.
“Sam was a heroic humanitarian whose selfless generosity and boundless courage inspired countless people around the world to be kinder to animals-and each other. His heart was as great as his sense of humor,” said Nathan Runkle, president of the nonprofit group Mercy for Animals. “He never missed an opportunity to speak up for those in need. Sam led by example and showed us all what bravery, kindness and determination truly were. A more compassionate future draws ever more near because of his legacy of generosity.”