It’s been a long, sad year so far in terms of the lost of beloved celebrity figures in the realms of TV, movies, and music, and the year is only three months old. We’ve already said goodbye to David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Douglas Slocombe, George Martin, George Kennedy, Larry Drake, and Ken Howard, and now Garry Shandling has joined them in the afterlife. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Shandling passed away this afternoon at the age of 66 after being taken to a Los Angeles hospital following a medical emergency. Although the exact details of Shandling’s untimely demise are unknown, one thing’s for sure, the comedian and actor is being remember with incredible fondness for his talent and influence tonight.
Shandling began his Hollywood career as a writer for various sitcoms like Welcome Back, Kotter and Three’s Company, but he found his real voice in stand-up comedy. After regular shows at the famed Comedy Store in L.A. and at comedy clubs across the country, he appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson first as a guest, and then as a semi-regular fill-in host for Carson. That success prompted Shandling to get several stand-up specials on HBO and Showtime, and eventually his first series on Showtime called It’s Garry Shandling, a sitcom featuring characters that know they’re in a sitcom, breaking the fourth wall. (Which has come back in style, as you may have noticed.)
Shandling’s real claim to fame though was The Larry Sanders Show. The comedy series began in 1992 on HBO and featured Sanders as talk show host Larry Sanders, and co-starred a who’s who accomplished actors including Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor, Sarah Silverman, Jeremy Piven, Janeane Garofalo, Wallace Langham, and Mary Lynn Rajskub. The Larry Sanders Show won all kinds of critical praise and awards consideration due to its format breaking style including the “walk and talk”, celebrities appearing ans themselves, and its mix of humor and pathos. It was the first in a long line of prestige series developed by HBO, and remains one of the channel’s greatest successes. Shandling was personally nominated for 18 Emmy Awards for the series including five for acting, seven for writing and six for producing.
To nerd audiences Shandling may be best known for playing Senator Stern in the Marvel movies, first as an antagonist of Tony Stark’s in Iron Man 2, and then in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when it was revealed Stern was a secret member of HYDRA. Shandling was also the voice of Verne the Turtle in the animated film based on Over the Hedge, he cameoed as himself in Zoolander, and he starred in, wrote and produced What Planet Are You From? Shandling also appeared as himself in the X-Files episode “Hollywood A.D.” where Shandling and Tea Leoni played the big screen version of Mulder and Scully in a movie within the series.
“Garry was a guiding voice of comedy. He set the standard and we’re all still trying to meet it. He gave us all opportunities to learn how to do the best work of our lives,” said Shandling’s Larry Sanders costar Bob Odenkirk in a statement. “But, more importantly, as I knew him these last few years, he was a person who never stopped trying to be a better person. That’s yet another way he inspired me and I’m sure many others who knew him.”