Writer-director Garry Marshall, whose deft touch with comedy and romance led to a string of TV hits that included Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley and the box-office successes Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride, has died, the AP reports. He was 81. Marshall died Tuesday at a hospital in Burbank, Calif., of complications from pneumonia after having a stroke, his publicist said in a statement. The director also had an on-screen presence, using his New York accent and gruff delivery in colorful supporting roles that included a practical-minded casino boss unswayed by Albert Brooks' disastrous luck in Lost in America and a crass network executive in Soapdish. "A great, great guy and the best casino boss in the history of film," Brooks tweeted.
Marshall began his entertainment career in the 1960s selling jokes to comedians, then moved to writing sketches for The Tonight Show. He and then-writing partner Jerry Belson turned out scripts for the most popular comedies of the '60s, including The Lucy Show. In 1970, they turned Neil Simon's Broadway hit The Odd Couple into a sitcom produced by Marshall, which was the beginning of a TV sitcom empire. In January 1979, Marshall had three of the top five comedies on the air with Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley—which starred his sister, Penny Marshall—and Mork & Mindy. "Critics have knocked me for targeting society's lowest common denominator," he said in his 1995 autobiography, Wake Me When It's Funny, written with his daughter, Lori Marshall. "I believe that television was, and still is, the only medium that can truly reach society's lowest common denominator and entertain those people who maybe can't afford a movie or a play. So why not reach them and do it well?"