“In the pressure cooker of a TV show, it’s a little bit of a witches’ brew. I completely think I’m capable of being crazy. I probably was crazy when I was doing The Simpsons. But my pulse used to be really low, my blood pressure used to be really low, and I could be screaming at someone on the phone, yelling at the network, I might even be throwing some stuff, but my blood pressure wouldn’t go up. My heartbeat wouldn’t go up. Because I was doing a bit. Shtick. Pretending to be that mad to get my way. Which is not a good way to do it. I don’t suggest it.”

And so, in the fullness of time, it came to pass that almost 100 episodes of The Simpsons were completed, most with Sam at the helm, thus ushering the show into the lucrative world of international syndication. Then, in 1993, he left. “I can’t honestly say we were getting along as well at that point as when the project started,” he says. (The terms of his departure included a non-disclosure agreement.) “But it worked out for everyone. Everyone should be happy.” His settlement gave him a percentage of everything relating to the show—including the licensing and merchandising—worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. “I make tens of millions of dollars a year, which may not sound like a lot, but over 25 years it adds up.” Sam laughs.

“I’m an atheist, but there’s a thing called tithing that a lot of religions do. Ten percent was the minimum you were supposed to give to charity every year. And I always outdid that,” Sam explains. In 2002 he started the multi-platform Sam Simon Foundation, one arm of which rescues animals from Los Angeles kill shelters and trains some of them to be service dogs for the hearing-impaired and veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Then there’s the mobile veterinary clinic, also in Los Angeles, which offers free surgery and free spay and neuter services. But it’s not just animals; another arm of the foundation funds the Feeding Families program, a vegan food bank that offers free meals to some 400 Los Angeles families a week. “We’re on track to distribute over a half-million pounds of food to more than 65,000 people this year,” its spokesman tells me. Sam is also the largest individual donor to Save the Children, which just announced a new global philanthropic community called the Simon Society.

— In Vanity Fair, Merrill Markoe profiled her friend Sam Simon, a co-creator of the Simpsons who was diagnosed with terminal cancer two years ago. He lived the only way he knew how: with good humor and by dedicating his life to philanthropic causes.

Sam Simon died today at the age of 59.

Read the story

Photo: Mercy for Anim