A creative force is gone: Sam Simon, who influenced The Simpsons and who gave away most of his millions to charity, died yesterday at age 59. He was diagnosed with colon cancer a few years ago, the New York Times reports. He didn't invent The Simpsons' characters—that credit goes to cartoonist Matt Groening—but he worked on the show's early years, hiring and inspiring writers, helping to add characters, and demanding that voice actors read together to make the show more life-like. "I'm here to tell you, the real creative force behind The Simpsons was Sam Simon," writer Ken Levine tells Variety. "The tone, the storytelling, the level of humor—that was all developed on Sam’s watch." But Simon had a reputation for being difficult, clashed with Groening, and left after four seasons.
The eight-time Emmy winner departed with a golden deal that made him tens of millions of dollars per year. So he gave "most of it away," he once said, to protecting animals, training dogs for the disabled, and getting vegan meals to low-income families. Married twice—once to actor and poker player Jennifer Tilly—he also hosted a poker-playing show on Playboy TV. Born in the LA area in 1955, he started off as a TV writer, then went on to run Taxi and direct shows including the Carlin Show, Friends, and Anger Management, says the Hollywood Reporter. But he hit it big with The Simpsons—a show he didn't believe would last. "It’s a good lesson, isn’t it?" he once told Stanford Magazine. "If you do something trying to make your friends laugh and that you can be proud of, you can also be successful."