Sam Simon, the comedy writer/producer/director of sitcoms such as Cheers, The George Carlin Show and The Simpsons, who funneled millions of his own profits from the latter show into a non-profit foundation that rescued dogs, has died from cancer. Simon was 59.
The Sam Simon Foundation announced the news today 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. We love you Sam!”
Diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in 2012 and given three to six months to live, Simon spent his final years fully engaged in philanthropy — read longtime friend and comedy writer Merrill Markoe’s piece on Simon in the October 2014 issue of Vanity Fair for the full story.
Samuel Michael “Sam” Simon (June 6, 1955 – March 9, 2015) grew up in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, the Simons across the street from Groucho Marx. Young Sam developed his own early interest in the arts, even drawing cartoons for his college newspaper at Stanford. In great moments of trivia, a Stanford drawing class rejected him for not being good enough — oh, how he’d have the last laugh as a co-creator of The Simpsons and its creative centerpiece showrunning the first four seasons.
In between, he produced and ran the show at Taxi, Cheers and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.
But developing Matt Groening’s animated strips into The Simpsons alongside James L. Brooks, first as interstitials within Tracey Ullman’s sketch series, and then its own series on the fledgling FOX network, would yield his greatest triumph, as well as the funds that allowed him to do such greater good in the world. Simon brought the show’s first writing staff together, co-wrote eight episodes and provided the signature sense and sensibility of this animated Springfield over the first four seasons. He left in 1993 with a deal that kept giving him credit and a share of the profits.
In 1994, Simon convinced George Carlin to give sitcoms another shot with The George Carlin Show on FOX, which aired 27 episodes. Afterward, he spent several years as a director, before creating and self-funding The Sam Simon Foundation — tagline, “Saving the lives of dogs/to enrich the lives of others.” The foundation does not accept public donations, fully funded by Simon and providing free services to its recipients.
Simon won nine Primetime Emmy Awards and received 10 other nominations over the course of his career, including work on The Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons, Taxi, Cheers, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. The past two years, the Writers Guild of America honored him with lifetime achievement and humanitarian awards.
His other interests including managing boxers, playing professional poker, funding a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship and appearing regularly on Howard Stern’s radio program. Twice-married and divorced, he was currently engaged to actress Jennifer Tilly.