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Actor, comedian, and writer Garry Shandling was the mastermind behind "The Larry Sanders Show" (HBO 1992-98) and "It's Garry Shandling's Show" (Showtime, 1986-90) -groundbreaking, critically-acclaimed cable comedies that parodied the conventions and culture of television. In both series, art imitated life, with the actor portraying an insecure, self-obsessed loser in love who was the butt of his own jokes. Off-screen, his persona was much the same, whether he was performing stand-up or hosting "The Tonight Show." Shandling made several feature film appearances following the wrap of "Sanders" in 1998, but he remained fairly low profile, taking a break from his love/hate relationship with Hollywood, only to surface with eight hours of unusually personal documentary footage for the release of the DVD set "Not Just the Best of Larry Sanders" (2007). Garry Shandling died on March 24, 2016 at the age of 66.
Garry Shandling was born in Chicago, IL, on Nov. 29, 1949, but raised in Tucson, AZ, after his family relocated to the desert climate to benefit Shandling's older brother Barry, who suffered from cystic fibrosis. Barry died when Shandling was only 10 years old, leaving him the lone grieving child who was already suffering his fair share of harassment, due to his outsider status. With his brother gone, he was also the only Jewish kid around. Shandling's sense of humor ultimately came to his aid, serving as a defense mechanism on the playground, as well as laying the groundwork for his future. He listened to Woody Allen comedy records, captivated and inspired by Allen's self-deprecating style, and performed jokes for his parents - a printer and pet store owner. Even though it was apparent he had a talent for comedy, Shandling pursued careers in engineering and then marketing at Arizona State University. In 1973, while doing post-graduate work in Creative Writing, Shandling wrote a comedy monologue which he boldly handed to comic George Carlin after seeing his act at a club in Tucson. Carlin told him that he had talent, and that was all any fledgling comic needed to hear. Shandling soon packed up and left for Hollywood.
Shandling caught a lucky break when he sold a script to the urban comedy, "Sanford and Son" (NBC, 1972-77). Over the next few years, he did well writing for other silly '70s sitcoms, including "Welcome Back, Kotter" (ABC 1975-79) and "Three's Company" (ABC 1977-84). But it was not long before he became disillusioned with the uninspiring, formulaic nature of TV sitcoms. In 1977, Shandling was involved in a near fatal car accident, and over the ensuing weeks in the hospital, re-evaluated the meaning of his life, concluding that he wanted to be a stand-up comedian. Again, he seemed blessed with a fast-track to success. After only three years of working up his act on comedy stages at home and on the road, he landed a much-coveted slot on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson (NBC 1954- ). In 1981, he became such an audience and Carson personal favorite, that he became a guest host on the show, eventually substituting for his aging idol every Monday night. This revered gig among comics would inform his later, most popular project, "The Larry Sanders Show." In 1984, he continued his upwardly mobile streak, landing a stand-up special on Showtime called "Garry Shandling Alone in Vegas."
In 1985, Shandling put aside stand-up and returned to the sitcom world; this time as co-creator - along with former "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) writer, Alan Zweibel - producer and star of "It's Garry Shandling's Show." Debuting on Showtime in 1986, it was one of the fledgling network's first original programs. Formatted after the 1950s staple, "The Jack Benny Program" (CBS 1950-64, NBC 1964-65) - in which Benny, a stand-up comedian, spoke to the audience and performed on a set based on his actual house. Likewise, "It's Garry " featured Shandling as a self-effacing stand-up comic looking for love, addressing the audience from a set based on his own home in the San Fernando Valley. The surreal show opened with a theme song announcing "This is the theme to Garry's Show/the opening theme to Garry's show/this is the music that you hear as you watch the credits " Further surreal touches included invitations for the audience to interact with the show characters, and appearances by celebrities playing themselves - like Tom Petty, the next door neighbor. The show was nominated for Emmys and Cable Ace Awards, taking home a Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy in 1987. The smart, quirky show ran until cancellation in 1990.
In 1992, Shandling was back with a vengeance; this time, with a new comedy that also dissected the conventions of television, but in a much darker way. HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" favored the real over the surreal, revolving around Shandling starring as a vain late night talk show host, Larry Sanders. Inspired by Shandling's years with "The Tonight Show," "Larry Sanders" explored the backstage world of television, with its cutthroat competition, fragile hierarchies and the even more fragile egos. Dozens of celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Ellen DeGeneres, Elvis Costello, David Duchovny and Jim Carrey lined up for a chance to appear across the desk from Sanders, parodying their public image and making a contribution to the show's pointed critique of the shallow entertainment business. And like "It's Garry Shandling's Show," art imitated life, with Sanders' romantic status evolving on par with Shandling's personal life; even an off-screen lawsuit finding its way into the script. The six years that "Larry Sanders" was on the air, it was largely considered the best comedy on television, earning 56 Emmy nominations and 3 wins, including Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. Shandling called it quits in 1998, citing creative burnout and a grueling schedule. Later in the year, he saw the release of his book, The Autobiography of Larry Sanders: Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host, which was "as told to" Garry Shandling.
Unfortunately, at the same time Shandling was winding down as king of faux late night comedy, he was also making real-life trade paper headlines for his involvement in a series of lawsuits. In 1997, he settled with "Larry Sanders" actress and former fiancée, Linda Doucet, who sued Shandling after he fired her soon after the pair's real life breakup. Doucet went on to receive $1 million in settlement. Shortly after that case wrapped, Shandling filed a lawsuit against his manager and friend of over 20 years, Brad Grey. In a case that threatened to forever change the rules of Hollywood, Shandling sued Grey for using him to build up a production empire - Brillstein-Grey - and for "double-dipping" into Shandling's earnings as both his manager and a member of the production team - a common practice in entertainment. Grey countersued that Shandling's erratic and difficult behavior had cost the "Sanders" production millions of dollars. The case was settled out of court in an exchange of distribution rights of several TV shows.
Following the somewhat bitter demise of "Sanders," Shandling made his feature screenwriting debut in 2000 with "What Planet Are You From?" - in which he starred as an alien sent to earth to impregnate women, only to bring the offspring back to his home planet. The lowbrow film failed to win over neither critics or fans - all of whom who were used to Shandling's higher caliber of whip-smart comedy. As an actor with a highly distinguishable voice and look, Shandling went on to appear in "Hurly Burly" (2000), "Town and Country" (2001) and voiced characters in several animated features like "Over the Hedge" (2006) and "Hammy's Boomerang Adventure" (2006). In 2000, Shandling made a memorable guest appearance on "The X-Files" (Fox, 1993-2002) - which starred real-life best friend, David Duchovny - playing himself, but channeling a smarmy version of Duchovny's character, Agent Fox Mulder, in the episode, "Hollywood, A.D." The tongue-in-cheek story was directed by Duchovny, who also wrote the part for his friend. The two would appear in one another's projects on and off for years, sharing a dry, cerebral wit between them. The well-rounded Shandling even served as host of the Grammy Awards from 1990-95, as well as the Emmy Awards in 2000 and 2004.
For the most part, since "Larry Sanders" left the airwaves, Shandling did, however, retain a low profile, enjoying a period of personal growth out of the spotlight. In April of 2007, "Not Just the Best of Larry Sanders" DVD set was released to much fanfare, including almost eight hours of new documentary footage shot by Shandling. During promotions for the set, the comic - who said he regretted having been tied up with a high-profile lawsuit when the show ended - spent nearly a year visiting with former cast members and guests to get their reflections on the show, ironically offering fans a behind-the-scenes look at the behind-the-scenes world of "Larry Sanders." Following that release, Shandling maintained a low profile, his main screen appearances coming as a combative U.S. senator in "Iron Man 2" (2010) and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014). Garry Shandling died in Los Angeles on March 24, 2016. He was 66 years old.
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Special Thanks (Special)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
First stand-up appearance at the Comedy Store in L.A.
Made first "Tonight Show" appearance
Showtime comedy special "Garry Shandling Alone in Vegas"
Guest hosted for Johnny Carson
"It's Garry Shandling's Show" picked up by the Fox network
Starred in hour-long comedy special "Garry Shandling: Stand Up" for HBO
Created and starred in HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show"
Feature debut, in a cameo role, "The Night We Never Met"
First feature in a supporting role, "Love Affair"
Had dramatic role in "Hurlyburly"
Starred as an alien in the feature "What Planet Are You From?"; also contributed to screenplay
Co-starred with Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty in the comedy "Town & Country"
Hosted the 56th annual Primetime Emmys Awards (September)
Voiced Vern the tortoise in the animated comedy "Over the Hedge" based on the comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis
Played a therapist in Bart Freundlich's "Trust the Man"
Had a small role as Senator Stern in Jon Favreau's "Iron Man 2"