Sam Simon, a creative force for multiple TV shows, including his role as co-developer of The Simpsons, has died after a three-year struggle with colon cancer. He was 59.
Simon began his career by writing for animated comedies, including Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and Mighty Mouse, before teaming up with James L. Brooks on Taxi, the Emmy-winning sitcom starring Judd Hirsch and Danny DeVito, from 1981 to 1983. He was a writer and producer for Cheers, and went on to contribute to a handful of other shows, including It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Tracy Ullman Show, which reunited him with Brooks and led to The Simpsons in 1989.
“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,” Simpsons executive producer Al Jean said in a statement.
Though Simon retained an executive producer title, he left The Simpsons after four tumultuous seasons in which he sparred with Matt Groening over matters big and small, profound and petty. But Simon is credited with building the Hall-of-Fame caliber writers room that helped define Springfield in the show’s early years, and many of the town’s most notable residents—Mr. Burns, Dr. Hibbert, Chief Wiggum—were shaped in form or personality by his sensibility. “I think the unsung hero has always been Sam,” Brad Bird said in the Simpsons’ unauthorized history written by John Ortved. “I was in the room when he took some pretty mediocre scripts and just sat there in his chair, with all the writers in the room and a cigar, and went through it, line by line. He would get people to pitch lines, but nine times out of 10, he came up with the best line.”
Simon later helped shape The George Carlin Show and The Drew Carrey Show, among others. His negotiated exit from The Simpsons in 1993 made him extremely wealthy, and he founded the Sam Simon Foundation, an organization that trains dogs to help people who are disabled. The foundation announced Simon’s death on its Facebook page Monday afternoon with a promise to continue honoring him: “We all miss him, and in his honor, we will continue bringing his vision to light through our work at the Sam Simon Foundation.”