Garry Shandling, whose comedic career spanned decades and who most recently appeared in “Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War” and “Iron Man 2,” as well as in cameo bits in “The Dictator” and “Zoolander,” has died at the age of 66.
Friends immediately took to social media to express their condolences and remember the actor with a biting sense of humor. “Garry Shandling was as kind and generous as he was funny and that is saying a lot,” Jimmy Kimmel tweeted. Added Albert Brooks on Twitter: “Brilliantly funny and such a great guy. He will be so missed.”
“Garry would see the ridiculousness of me being asked to sum up his life five minutes after being told of his passing. It is a perfect, ridiculous Larry Sanders moment,” director Judd Apatow said in a statement. “I can imagine how (the character) Hank would handle it but 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.”
The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that Shandling, known for “The Larry Sanders Show” and “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” on cable television, was transferred by ambulance to a hospital, where he died. No cause of death was announced.
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No additional details were immediately available. Calls to Shandling’s publicist were not immediately returned.
Shandling had recently joined Jerry Seinfeld on his Web series “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” for an episode this season with the eerily foreboding title “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive.”
In the episode, the comedy pals tour their old stomping grounds of the Comedy Store, and talk about their career paths. During their drive, Shandling mentioned he had a hyperparathyroid gland that was undiagnosed because, as Shandling put it, “the symptoms mirror the exact same symptoms an older Jewish man would have. Which is, (you know), lethargic, you get puffy, you get heavy, you kind of feel like you want a divorce but you’re thinking you’re not married.”
The pair also talked about death, particularly those of fellow comedians Robin Williams and David Brenner, and the legacy of their work. Shandling said material “is purely a vehicle for you to express your spirit. And your soul, and your being” before expressing in his droll way what he’d want his funeral to be like.
“What I want at my funeral is an actual boxing referee to do a count. And at 5, just wave it off and say, ‘He’s not getting up,’” Shandling joked.
Born in Chicago, Shandling’s family would later move to Tucson, Ariz., to seek treatment for his older brother Barry, who suffered from cystic fibrosis. Barry died at age 10.
Shandling moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s to pursue a career in comedy writing. He cut his teeth by writing ad copy before eventually landing staff writing jobs on sitcoms such as “Sanford and Son” and “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
The comedian had a brush with death in 1977, when he was 27, when he was involved in a serious car accident in Beverly Hills. The incident prompted Shandling to focus on building a career as a stand-up comedian. He landed gigs at the Comedy Store in L.A. and cultivated a stage persona that played up his real-life neuroses.
It wasn’t long before Shandling booked a coveted spot on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” in 1981 and became a regular guest on the show. He had become such a fixture on the show that he became Carson’s permanent guest host until 1987.
By 1986, he had created his own sitcom for Showtime, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.” The series, co-created by Alan Zweibel, ran until 1990.
Shandling reached his greatest career pinnacle as Larry Sanders, the host of a fictional talk show who was caught in a passive-aggressive dance with everyone in his sphere, including his on-air sidekick Hank “Hey Now” Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor). “Larry Sanders,” which aired on HBO from 1992 to 1998, pushed the boundaries by featuring real celebrities in sometimes less-than-flattering cameos (often discussing real projects), having Shandling directly address the audience, and – especially controversial at the time – doing away with a laugh track.
Such features are now commonplace in recent sitcoms ranging from “The Office” to “30 Rock” to “Modern Family,” but they were groundbreaking at the time, with “Larry Sanders” winning numerous awards, including three Primetime Emmys.
Perhaps because he was a self-described neurotic himself, Shandling was sensitive about satirizing people in the entertainment industry, first on his late-1980s Showtime series “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and then on “Larry Sanders.”
“It’s an extremely delicate process because no one wants to be made fun of, and I try to be really protective of that,” Shandling explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1995, speaking of “Larry Sanders.” “I do not think this is a mean-spirited show in any way. There’s a level of satire in which, if one gets it, then they’re willing to play with that. This show allows an opportunity for some people to play themselves in a way that they haven’t been able to do before.”
After “Larry Sanders” wrapped up, Shandling became an in-demand emcee, hosting the Emmys in 2000 and 2004. But his career suffered in later years. An attempt to break out as a leading movie star in the 2000 fantasy “What Planet Are You From?” fizzled with critics and audiences.
In 2008, the comedian made headlines for being the first celebrity witness in the racketeering and wiretap trial of private eye Anthony Pellicano and four others. Shandling said he had been the target of a “smear campaign” while Pellicano was working for Paramount Pictures executive Brad Grey and entertainment attorney Bert Fields.
Shandling told a federal jury that he became the target of unflattering media stories after he sued Grey, believing that the executive, then the comedian’s manager, was improperly pocketing proceeds from “The Larry Sanders Show.”
Grey disputed Shandling’s claims. Both he and Fields denied knowing of any illegal activities by Pellicano and were not charged with crimes. Grey testified that his long relationship with Shandling ended when he and his management company were sued by the comedian and he hired Fields.