Befitting his legacy as a comedy icon, Garry Marshall was busy working up until the end of his life.
Marshall died Tuesday due to pneumonia complications. He was 81.
Most recently, Marshall proudly served as an executive consultant on CBS’ “The Odd Couple” revival, now heading into its third season. Marshall, who turned the Neil Simon play into a hit ABC sitcom in the early 1970s, spent the past two years giving advice and working with the show’s producers. Earlier this year, he even appeared on camera as Walter Madison, Oscar’s (Matthew Perry) father.
“I keep creating,” Marshall told us in 2015 at the Television Critics Assn. press tour. “I’m still pitching shows, as many people are,” he said, referring to a show he had in the works at the time about triplets. “What’s exciting is when the network gets behind it. Here, CBS is behind [the ‘Odd Couple’ revival].”
Marshall became one of the most successful TV producers in history thanks to a string of megahits in the 1970s, including “Happy Days” (spun off of “Love, American Style), “Laverne & Shirley” (spun off of “Happy Days”) and “Mork & Mindy” (also spun off of “Happy Days”).
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It’s hard to overstate how huge and influential Marshall’s sitcoms were in the late 1970s. During the 1976-1977 season, “Happy Days” was the No. 1 show in all of TV; then, during 1977-1978 and 1978-1979 seasons, “Laverne & Shirley” took over as TV’s No. 1 show. His characters, including the Fonz, Lenny and Squiggy and Mork, quickly became pop culture phenomenons.
Before he began creating shows of his own, Marshall wrote for iconic TV series such as “Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Danny Thomas Show” and “The Lucy Show.” Then came “The Odd Couple” in 1970.
“I always loved ‘The Odd Couple,'” he told us last year. “It was the first show I ever did [on my own] that was a hit. I always loved Tony [Randall] and Jack [Klugman]. We were very close.”
Several other revivals of “The Odd Couple” were tried in later years. When CBS rebooted the show, Marshall said CBS CEO Les Moonves “called me personally and said, ‘I’d love you to be a consultant, come. My first question was, ‘I’m a little older, where are they shooting it?’ [It was near] my neighborhood. I’ll be there every time!”
Marshall was also a familiar face thanks to an active acting career, including a recurring role as the network boss on CBS’ “Murphy Brown” — and similarly, the fictional CBS boss on FX’s “Louie.” He also appeared in movies including “A League of Their Own,” “Soap Dish,” “Lost in America,” “Never Been Kissed” and “Keeping Up with the Steins.”
Marshall’s other recent work included lending his voice to the animated series “BoJack Horseman” and “Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero.” He also guested on “Hot in Cleveland,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Two and a Half Men.”
Later, with his TV legacy firmly established, Marshall branched into features, directing hit movies including “Pretty Woman,” “Runaway Bride,” “The Princess Diaries,” “Nothing in Common,” “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve.”
Marshall was also a devoted alum of Northwestern University, where a media production building was named in his and his wife’s honor.
Hollywood stars were quick to pay tribute to the comedy legend on social media. Henry Winkler, whose career took off as the Fonz on “Happy Days,” wrote, “Thank you for my professional life. Thank you for your loyalty , friendship and generosity.”
Fred Savage, who appeared in “The Princess Bride,” wrote, “So sad to hear the news about Garry Marshall. He was a kind and generous man who gave everything to his family and his work. A real loss.”
“The last time I saw Garry I thanked him for my life,” wrote Michael McKean (“Lenny” from “Laverne & Shirley”). “I did not exaggerate. RIP, boss.”
And wrote Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda Williams: “RIP Garry Marshall. You forever changed my father’s life, and thus, mine. Thank you for capturing so much joy on film, over and over.”