Aside from maybe my parents, my wife, some of my friends, and the broader notion of “society,” I don’t think there’s anything that had a bigger effect on my upbringing than The Simpsons. I think a show like Breaking Bad or even Mad Men is probably better than The Simpsons, but I also feel like that’s a huge apples-to-oranges comparison. In terms of comedy and influence on comedy, there’s very few things that even approach the stratosphere of The Simpsons. I saw the movie on the first night it was out, I’ve read this New Yorker profile of George Meyer probably 20 times, and a good percentage of male friends I’ve made since age 23 were ultimately the result of sharing Simpsons quotes (I made a couple of friends at ESPN by saying in a convo, “You took all your money and bet it against the Harlem Globetrotters?”).
Sam Simon came to The Simpsons in 1989, left in 1993, and died today. He wasn’t necessarily even around for the glory years of a show that touched millions of people, but he developed the initial writing staff, wrote eight episodes, and is often considered to be one of the primary forces behind the show’s general sensibility. Some people went as far as to say he “embodied the time we live in.”
So yes, he made a great show that millions of people can quote from. But others have done similar things and their deaths haven’t been so sad, at least to me. The thing about Simon that matters even more was what happened after the greatness.
This is probably the article that sums it up best; Sam Simon was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, given two months to live, he decided to embark on a quest of philanthropy — essentially giving away his millions to various causes, including animal rights. He was basically told, “Look, you’re going to die,” and he responded in perhaps the most beautiful, proactive way possible. All of us want to believe in ourselves that we would do that, especially if we had millions of dollars. Very few of us actually would.
You can have a lot of different discussions about the value of a life lived, and ironically, for one of the most important questions of a person’s existence, we don’t speak about it nearly enough — until, of course, it’s too late. But the general idea is to impact people with your work and your decency, and to be loved and remembered fondly. Right?
That last one resonates personally with me, because if The Simpsons hadn’t been shaped the way it was, I’m honestly not sure I would have the sense of humor I do or have some of the friends I do. Honestly. Stop and think about how powerful that is. I’m one person, and yes, he was one person, and he worked on the show for four years. But the roots of it, and what he did, helped shape entire lives. That’s an amazing measure of a man.
To take that creative element and go beyond — to do something that everyone is always talking about doing, that being “putting your money where your mouth is,” is even doubly incredible.
Thank you so much, Sam Simon. I hope you see all these outpourings from people in their 20s and 30s and I hope you realize just how remarkable a person you were.