Garry Shandling, an influential stand-up comedian, actor, writer and director, has died, according to Los Angeles Times. He was 66.
Shandling began his show business career in the 1970s as a writer for sitcoms such as Sanford and Son and Welcome Back, Kotter before focusing on stand-up comedy. In 1981, he snagged a coveted spot on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which propelled him toward stardom.
His first sitcom as the star, It's Garry Shandling's Show, launched on Showtime in 1986. The show merrily mocked sitcom conventions, featuring contributions from writers including Larry David and a flock of people who later moved on to The Simpsons.
The comic drew upon his experience as permanent guest host for The Tonight Show with his next television series, The Larry Sanders Show, which ran for six seasons on HBO starting in 1992. Shandling starred as a neurotic late-night talk show host, and the character-based series often seemed to be mirroring real life. Many celebrities appeared to poke fun at themselves (see Robin Williams in the clip below), but the show revolved around its well-rounded characters..
Young Judd Apatow initially met Shandling in his teens. A few years later, Apatow's manager suggested that Apatow write jokes for Shandling's stint as host of the 1991 Grammy Awards, and that led to Shandling hiring Apatow as a writer for The Larry Sanders Show. The series gave Apatow his first opportunity to direct. Commenting on Shandling's death, Apatow stated in part: "I just don't know how to sum up someone I loved so much who taught me everything I know and was always so kind to me. I am just too sad. Maybe tomorrow I will do better."
Shandling's movie career did not live up to expectations. He wrote and starred in What Planet Are You From? (2000) and appeared the following year opposite Warren Beatty in Town & Country, neither of which resonated deeply with audiences.
After that, he was scarcely seen on the big screen, although he did pop up briefly as Senator Stern in both Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Earlier this year, in what appears to have been his final screen appearance, Shandling guested on an episode of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It's a very funny yet bittersweet episode, in which the two longtime friends reminisce about their early days as stand-up comics, as well as their glory days, filming their smash-hit television shows on the same studio lot. It's hilarious and touching, and just might provoke a few tears in memory of a comic genius.
(You can watch the entire episode at Crackle.)