Sam Simon, who has died aged 59, was one of the major creative forces behind The Simpsons though he left the show after its fourth season in a lucrative arrangement that allowed him to spend much of the rest of his life giving his money away.
The cartoonist Matt Groening invented the Simpson family for a series of short animated segments first seen on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. Indeed Groening named some of the characters after members of his own family, including Homer and Marge, the parents. But Simon - who had been a writer and producer for the sitcoms Cheers and Taxi - played a crucial role as The Simpsons evolved into a half-hour series. It became the longest-running sitcom in television history.
Simon helped populate Springfield, the fictional town where the Simpsons live, with a range of characters. He insisted that the show be created using some conventional sitcom techniques like having writers work collectively. He had the voice actors read their parts as an ensemble, with the goal of giving the show more lifelike rhythm and timing. Anarchic And he hired many of the show’s first writers, a number of whom gave him credit for informing its multilayered sensibility, one that skewers pieties with anarchic humor and sometimes vulgarity while celebrating family and community.
"If you leave out Sam Simon, you're telling the managed version," Jon Vitti, one of the show's first writers, told the New York Times in 2001. "He was the guy we wrote for."
Simon had to change directions after his sitcom years and figure out how to make an unconventional product appeal to mainstream audiences. He was surprised at how well it worked.
“There would be a few minutes where you’d have a parody of a Kubrick movie and then you’d have Homer on the kitchen counter eating cake like a dog,” he said. “I thought some people would like some aspects of it, but I wasn’t sure how many would come along for the full ride. It turned out I was incredibly wrong. Homer is now the prototype for every male lead on a comedy show.”
Simon left the show in 1993, after four seasons. It was not an amicable split, but it was extraordinarily profitable for Simon. He retained the title of executive producer and was given royalties from future home video sales. He said in interviews that it provided him with “tens of millions” of dollars each year.
Simon put his money toward his passions. He started a foundation that trained dogs to help disabled people and gave generously to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among other groups.
After Simon learned he had cancer, he announced his intention to give nearly all his Simpsons royalties to charity. "I've given most of it away," he said in 2013 when asked about his wealth. "I won't be rich again until we get our quarterly instalment from The Simpsons. Neighbour of Groucho Simon was born in June 1955 in the Los Angeles area to Arthur and Joan Simon. His father owned a company that made discount clothing, and his mother owned an art gallery.
Sam Simon grew up comfortably in Beverly Hills, across the street from Groucho Marx and around the corner from Priscilla Presley.
He was recruited to play football at Stanford but quit after one day of practice. While he was a student there, he drew sports cartoons for the San Francisco Chronicle. He graduated in 1977.
Four years later, after he had worked as a storyboard artist and writer for Filmation Studios, he mailed an unsolicited script to the producers of Taxi. They accepted and produced his script, and by the following year, Simon had become one of the show's main writers. He was soon writing and producing for several other shows, including Cheers.
After he left The Simpsons, he helped develop other series, including the short-lived The George Carlin Show and the long-running The Drew Carey Show.
He also became a competitive poker player and hosted a programme on Playboy TV featuring celebrities playing Texas Hold ’em. He was a frequent guest on Howard Stern’s radio show.
He was also recently a consultant on the Charlie Sheen sitcom Anger Management. In 1997, he entered a different arena entirely when he began managing boxer Lamon Brewster, who in 2004 won the World Boxing Organisation heavyweight championship.
Simon’s marriage to actress and competitive poker player Jennifer Tilly ended in divorce, but the two remained close. A brief marriage to Jami Ferrell, a Playboy model, also ended in divorce.