Mar 9, 2015

R.I.P. Sam Simon (1955-2015)

In the grand scheme of things, few things have been as significant in my life as The Simpsons. Since I could comprehend jokes, they were there on my TV every night. I would wait every Sunday for the new episodes (still do). I know almost half of the episodes inside and out. It is an impressive feat that is reflective of an OCD and admiration that I have for the show unlike any other. However, there's likely one thing that doesn't get enough credit: the people behind the scenes. Among them was Sam Simon, who passed away today after battling with cancer for many years. While the news isn't shocking, it's more important to remember why Simon was more than just another writer. He was one of the central pieces to the bigger picture.
For fans of The Simpsons, there's a holy trinity present in its three creators: Matt Groening, Simon and James L. Brooks. Where Brooks brought the heart and Groening brought the design, Simon momentarily brought the style. Before his departure in 1993, he helped to guide the series for its first two seasons and helped to hire the crucial writers including John Swartzwelder,  George Meyer, Jon Vitti, Jeff Martin, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky. He also did character designs for the likes of Mr. Burns, Dr. Hibbert and Chief Wiggum. He did a lot and is considered by Brad Bird to be the unsung hero of the series. This is largely because, as almost everyone familiar with the series will note, Groening gets all of the credit and it doesn't help that Simon hasn't been around in 22 years despite receiving producer credits every week.
But what did the man do that was more impressive than running the show during the crucial steps? There are small things that one can research later. However, he was integral in adding dimensions to the series as a whole. He was a large influence on the humor and demanded a sort of realism that remained temporarily in the series. It was said that everyone wrote for him and therefore had to impress him. He wrote integral episodes such as "The Way We Was" in which the protagonists meet in high school. Thanks to experience writing on Taxi and Cheers, he was a pro who simply wanted to make a show that would make his friends laugh. He also told writers that they would be canceled, so feel free to swing for the fences. In a sense, this motivational technique paid off.
Yes, he has since left the show and Groening has both praised him while also calling him a difficult co-worker. However, Simon still remains important. Hypothetically, he was the parent teaching the series how to walk and talk. Sure Brooks occasionally added a stinger of sentiment to the show, but Simon was just as important if not more-so. There's a stark difference in tone from the series' first four seasons and everything that followed. While this is a sign of the times, it also is reflection of Simon's hard nosed dedication to detail, which lead him to quit because he wasn't feeling fulfilled anymore. Don't worry, he still got royalties, which as you can guess were massive.
While his remaining credits remain just as interesting, including stints on The George Carlin Show and The Drew Carey Show, it was what he did outside of the pop culture zeitgeist that made him such a fascinating figure. He played poker professionally and lead boxer Lamon Brewster to the World Boxing Organization's Heavyweight Championship in 2004. He remained active for the large part of his career, even donating to charities that focused on helping animals regularly. He was an activist who sought to make a difference in the world and while there's still some bitterness between him and the show's other creators, he still lived a happy and full life.
In 2012, he received news that shocked The Simpsons fans at the time. He had cancer and was expected to live no more than six months. He was interviewed by various sources including 60 Minutes, The Howard Stern Show and WTF with Marc Maron about his life. Knowing that his days were numbered, he spoke with confidence on his illness and found something humbling in the uncertainty of it all. He lived one day at a time and would go on to donate all of his money to various charities. He was a class act until the end, managing to live a lot longer than expected.
For fans, he will always have an association with the show that will hopefully not be taken for granted. He molded the show and gave strict guidelines that evolved the show into what it could be. However, what makes him more admirable is that despite public perception as a third wheel, he made the most of his life. He simply didn't live carelessly and spend his money on self-fulfilling objects. He spent it and used his influence to make the world a better place. More than the influence, which resulted in nine Emmy wins and awards many times overs, he was an example of how to be a decent human being and use his powers for good. As he noticed his declining health, he found ways to make every day matter. It is something that we should all be more aware of and hopefully live a life as fruitful as his.

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