Sam Simon 1955-2015

Simpsons co-creator and tireless animal rights campaigner was 59


by James White |
Published on

The worlds of animation, film and TV lost a giant yesterday, albeit one whose name was never as well known as the people around him, but who was beloved by almost everyone who came into his orbit. Sam Simon, one of the co-creators of The Simpsons, has died at the age of 59.

A Los Angeles native, Simon was an artist from a young age, much to the frustration of his parents, who had hoped he’d channel his fierce intelligence into the world of law. But after appearing on local television art shows from the age of five, the die was cast. Despite not wanting to go to college, he was convinced by esteemed seat of learning Stanford to attend thanks to his grades and his athletic ability, although he quit the football team after one day. Even more surprisingly, he was denied admission to a drawing class over an apparent lack of the necessary talent.

Still, he scored a job as a cartoonist for several San Francisco papers while still in college and upon graduation he headed for Filmation Studios, working as a storyboard artist and writer on shows such as The New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse. Persuaded by one of his bosses to try his hand at live-action writing, he submitted a spec script to the sitcom Taxi, which got him a staff job and saw his episode make the air in the third season. By the fifth and final season, he was the series’ showrunner, writing several episodes and then moving on to the likes of Cheers, Best Of The Worst, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and creating short-lived sitcom Shaping Up. He also wrote the film The Super.

But his biggest break came while working on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, where he, alongside James L. Brooks and original creator Matt Groening, came up with the Simpsons short cartoons. The characters were spun off into their own animated sitcom in 1989 and have been on the air ever since. "In the beginning, I was sceptical it could be successful, but I was not sceptical it could be good,” Simon has since said of the show. “I was hoping for 13 episodes that my friends would like. It's a good lesson, isn't it? If you do something trying to make your friends laugh and that you can be proud of, you can also be successful." He ended up as showrunner for the series’ first two seasons and creative supervisor for the first four, assembling and leading the initial team of writers and becoming a key part of one of the most famous shows of all time. He eventually parted ways with the series in 1993 after finding that he simply wasn’t enjoying it anymore.

Following his time at the Simpsons – for which he still received big paydays that even he considered ridiculous – he worked on series such as The George Carlin Show, the US version of Men Behaving Badly and an adaptation of Bless This House. In his time, he won several Emmys, a Peabody Award and two Writers Guild Awards.

Yet he also pursued a life outside television, setting up a large foundation to help stray animals and working with the likes of PETA and Save The Children. A lifelong fan of boxing, he became an amateur pugilist and also won several games as a poker player.

In late 2012, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and arranged for his fortune – after ensuring his family was taken care of – to be donated to various causes. “Sam Simon taught me everything about animation writing, and even more about life,” The Simpsons' executive producer Al Jean told Variety.

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