Comedian, writer and actor Garry Shandling dies, aged 66

Garry Shandling

A generous, insightful, self-deprecating and incredibly smart man, Garry Shandling made a huge impact on the world of comedy with some groundbreaking contributions and so much other work and inspiration. He has died in Los Angeles at the age of 66.

Born in Chicago but raised in Tucson, Arizona, Shandling attended the University Of Arizona initially to study electrical engineering, then switched to the field of marketing, in which he completed a degree. For his postgraduate studies, he pursued a year of creative writing.

In 1973, he moved out to Los Angeles and worked at an advertising agency before breaking into television as a writer, selling a script to Sanford And Son, the American remake of Steptoe And Son. After work on other shows including Welcome Back, Kotter, he switched his focus to his own brand of comedy, particularly after a serious car accident that left him in critical condition for two days.

Frustrated by what he saw as restrictive writing tropes in sitcoms, he turned to stand-up comedy, perfecting his act as an anxiety-ridden observer of his and other foibles, romantic and otherwise. Booked to appear as a comic and guest on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson in 1981, he became a regular guest host and was considered as a potential replacement for Carson, but chose instead to create his own projects. A few stand-up specials for Showtime and HBO followed, and mock tribute special The Garry Shandling Show: 25th Anniversary Special led the way to It's Garry Shandling's Show, which he co-created with Alan Zweibel. Building on the idea of breaking the fourth wall, it deconstructed everything about the sitcom, with Shandling playing a character based on himself who is aware he's in a show.

It's Garry Shandling's Show ran for seven years and notched up 72 episodes, but then came what many people see as his true crowning achievement, co-creating The Larry Sanders Show with Dennis Klein. Set behind the scenes of a talk show much like the one Shandling himself used to co-host, the HBO comedy became a high watermark for series about creating television, featuring memorable characters and a smart exploration of the egos, behavior and madness that goes into making a show. During its 89-episode run, it was nominated for 56 Emmy Awards, winning three. And though it didn't always enjoy the highest ratings, it has long since become a show that appears on Best Of Lists.

Elsewhere, Sandler was a regular, entertaining host of awards shows such as the Grammys and the Emmys and had roles in a variety of films including Hurlyburly, Town & Country, Zoolander, Trust The Man and DreamWorks Animation's Over The Hedge. More recently, he was smug Senator Stern in Iron Man 2, and reprised the role (revealed to be a Hydra sympathizer) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

And thanks to his work, Shandling helped to shape the career of many comedians, writers and actors, including most notably Judd Apatow, who issued a statement on learning of his friend and mentor's death. “Garry would see the ridiculousness of me being asked to sum up his life five minutes after being told of his passing," he wrote. "It is a perfect, ridiculous Larry Sanders moment. I can imagine how Hank would handle it but I just don’t know how to sum up someone I loved so much who taught me everything I know and was always so kind to me. I am just too sad. Maybe tomorrow I will do better."