Larry Sanders creator Garry Shandling dies at 66

Tributes have been paid to the comedian Garry Shandling, whose parody of the American talk show, The Larry Sanders Show, took Hollywood to task, winning fans across the world, despite the best efforts of the TV schedulers.

P1030830Shandling, who was sixty six, suffered what LA police described as a “medical emergency.” The TMZ celebrity website, which broke the news, said he had suffered a “massive heart attack” at his Los Angeles home. The website’s source said he had been healthy and talking to friends only hours earlier. Shandling had tweeted a photograph of himself, with friends – and fellow actors – Kathy Griffin and Bob Odenkirk – only four days ago.

The comic rose to prominence in the late 1980s with his ground-breaking self-titled sitcom, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, in which he became one of the first stars to use the technique known as breaking the fourth wall – or breaking off from the narrative to speak directly to the audience.

But it was The Larry Sanders Show, which ran for six seasons in the mid 1990s, which won him a prime-time Emmy award, as well as a BAFTA and several Golden Globe nominations. Gently mocking the kind of chat-show hosts that he himself had been, as a stand-in for Johnny Carson.

As well as his incisive scripts and sublime performance as the most likeable grotesque on TV until the arrival of the David Brent and Larry David, Shandling had a knack for surrounding himself with talent that he would often propel to greater commercial success than his own. Larry Sanders’ own stand-in, John Stewart, went on to become one of America’s most successful TV stars in his own right, as the host of The Daily Show. Sanders’ sidekick, the even more insecure Hank Kingsley was played by Jeffrey Tambor, who went on to star in Arrested Development and win Emmys of his own for Transparent. And Jeremy Piven, known to many as the irascible agent Ari Gold in Entourage and to others as Mr Selfridge, saw his career launched as one of the writers on the show-within-a-show.

But the show was best known for giving a platform to the biggest stars of its day to play skewed versions of themselves, in a way which has since been mirrored by everyone from the likes of Kate Winslet in Extras to Matt Le Blanc in Episodes.

Despite being hugely influential in TV comedy and being a successful host of many entertainment awards shows, Shandling failed to make much of an impact on the big screen, appearing in Warren Beatty’s disappointing Town & Country and more recently as a senator in Marvel films, including Iron Man 2.

Steve Martin was one of the first comics to pay tribute to Shandling, describing him as “a very special comedian with a beautifully unpredictable mind.” Billy Crystal said he had been one of the most brilliant people he had known. Extras creator Ricky Gervais tweeted “RIP the great Garry Shandling. Surely, one of the most influential comedians of a generation.” Eddie Izzard said he had the “magic ‘it’ quality.” And his Larry Sanders co-star Jeffrey Tambor said “He redesigned the wheel of comedy and was the kindest and funniest of geniuses.”

One of his last public appearances, two months ago, was alongside X-Files actor David Duchovny, who was receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In an appearance on fellow comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s web-series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, that same week, Shandling described how he wanted his humour to reflected at his funeral, saying “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.”

With his catch-phrase, as Larry Sanders went to commercial breaks during his show, being “No flipping,” the line he used to bring the final season to a close is already being used as his epitaph: You may now flip.