Garry Shandling, star of The Larry Sanders Show and It's Garry Shandling's Show, has died. TMZ reports that he was not suffering from a specific illness but was in a hospital at the time of his death. Police confirmed the actor's death to The Associated Press. He was 66.
The comic originally made a name for himself in the late Seventies and early Eighties for his dry, ironic wit and humorously pained grimace. Between comedy stages, television programs and Hollywood films in the decades since then, Shandling became a cherished and inimitable comic talent.
"R.I.P. Garry Shandling," Albert Brooks wrote on Twitter after news of the comedian's death spread. "I am so saddened to hear this. [He was] brilliantly funny and such a great guy. He will be so missed."
Ricky Gervais described him as "one of the most influential comedians of a generation."
Shandling rose to prominence as a standup comedian, making appearances on Comic Relief, Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but transitioned into acting by mid-decade. In 1986 and 1987, he also became a frequent guest host for Carson, helming the show on the regular host's days off.
From 1986 to 1990 he starred on the Showtime meta-sitcom It's Garry Shandling's Show, in which he played a fictionalized version of himself who was obsessed with his hair and would often speak directly to the camera. Two years after that program's conclusion, he employed his skills as Carson guest host on the HBO sitcom The Larry Sanders Show, a sendup of late-night television at a turbulent time for the medium, as Carson bowed out of the spotlight that year and Jay Leno, David Letterman and Arsenio Hall duked it out in the ratings. NBC even courted Shandling as a permanent Carson replacement in 1993, as he filmed Sanders. He also declined The Late Late Show. Before its finale in 1998, The Larry Sanders Show won three Emmys and was nominated for 56.
Once The Larry Sanders Show ended, Shandling mostly retired from television – other than an appearance playing himself on The X-Files and a voice-acting role on Tom Goes to the Mayor. He made appearances in Hurlyburly, What Planet Are You From?, Zoolander and Run Ronnie Run, among other projects.
Shandling hosted the Grammys in 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1994. And he led the Emmys in 2000, 2003 (as co-host) and 2004.
He co-authored Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host: The Autobiography of Larry Sanders, which came out in 1998, with David Rensin.
In the past decade, Shandling worked as a voice actor in Over the Hedge, appeared in superhero movies Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and made an uncredited appearance in The Dictator. Earlier this year, he appeared in an episode of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Shandling was born in Chicago to a print-shop owner and pet-store proprietor on November 19th, 1949 but was raised in Tucson beginning at age 3. The family had made the move so that Shandling's brother, Barry, could receive treatment for cystic fibrosis. Barry died when Garry was 10. Shandling attended the University of Arizona, where he studied a variety of subjects including electrical engineering and marketing. He studied creative writing after he graduated. Eventually he received encouragement from George Carlin, who'd perused and approved of Shandling's monologues one night in Phoenix.
"It played a big part in me moving to L.A. to pursue a career in writing," Shandling once said. "Carlin was a breakthrough at the time."
The comedian moved to L.A. in 1973, according to author Zeke Jarvis' Make 'Em Laugh: American Humorists of the 20th and 21st Centuries, and launched a career in entertainment. He sold scripts to Welcome Back, Kotter and Sanford and Son and turned to comedy toward the middle of the decade. He was one of the few comedians to cross picket lines in 1979 when stand-up comics launched a strike.
The actor rarely discussed his personal life and never married. He lived with former Playboy playmate Linda Doucett, who appeared in It's Garry Shandling's Show and played Darlene Chapinni on The Larry Sanders Show, for a period.
"I had a car accident when I was 27 in which I was nearly killed," Shandling once told Esquire of how his humor evolved. "I had a vivid near-death experience that involved a voice asking, 'Do you want to continue leading Garry Shanlding's life?' Without thinking, I said, 'Yes.' Since then, I've been stuck living in the physical world while knowing, without a doubt, that there's something much more meaningful within it all. That realization is what drives my life and work."
TMZ cites sources saying Shandling was healthy and speaking with people Thursday morning. Someone reportedly called 911 from the actor's home and an ambulance subsequently took him to a hospital. The site has since posted an update claiming Shandling suffered a surprise "massive heart attack," according to its sources. No official cause of death has been released.