Near the end of the finale of The Larry Sanders Show, Garry Shandling, the star of that titular fake talk show, faced his audience to say a final goodbye.
"Television is a risky business," he said. "You want to entertain, you want to try and do something new every night. You want to say something fresh. Nine times out of 10, you end up with The Ropers."
Well, Larry Sanders was no Ropers. It was one of the best and smartest sitcoms of all time, a show whose cutting humor and showbiz satire holds up to this day. And it was all thanks to Shandling, who died Thursday at age 66.
Los Angeles police Officer Tony Im said Shandling died in Los Angeles of an undisclosed cause.
Im said fire officials were dispatched to Shandling's Los Angeles home Thursday morning for a reported medical emergency. Shandling was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Coroner's Lt. David Smith said it appeared Shandling died of natural causes, but an official cause of death determination had not yet been made. Smith said no autopsy was planned, but officials would determine Shandling's cause of death based on medical records and his medical history.
Im did not have any details on the nature of the emergency. He said police will conduct a death investigation.
Shandling was described, often reverently, as something of a comedy Buddha, generous with his time, wisdom and philosophy, especially with younger comics. He hosted the Grammys and Emmys; appeared in films like Mixed Nuts, Over the Hedge and Iron Man 2; and his mold-breaking Showtime sitcom It's Garry Shandling's Show was influential on numerous smart comedies that followed — including the one that defined Shandling's career.
Shandling was a perfectionist when it came to Larry Sanders, shaping and crafting nearly every facet of the show, set at a late-night talk show not unlike The Tonight Show. From 1992 to 1998, Shandling played Sanders as needy, neurotic, self-centered and weary of the demands of the industry, in the process crafting what many have argued was the definitive satire of modern show business. How many times over the years, do you think, someone has pitched a film or movie by saying, "It's like Larry Sanders, but set in a ... ?"
In 2015, the entertainment website Vulture ranked the 32 best talk show hosts in history, and pegged Sanders — not Garry Shandling, but Larry Sanders the character — at No. 7, right between Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Colbert. Shandling was so good as Sanders that he became a candidate for other real-life late-night gigs. (In a further twist of life imitating art, a running plot point on Sanders was that executives wanted to replace him with a younger, hipper host — a charismatic young comic by the name of Jon Stewart.)
As news of Shandling's death circulated on Twitter, he was described as "brilliantly funny" by Albert Brooks, "as kind and generous as he was funny" by Jimmy Kimmel and "one of the most influential comedians of a generation" by Ricky Gervais.
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Shandling would probably downplay all the attention. But to borrow another line from Larry Sanders' farewell speech: We don't know exactly what we're going to do without him. Except flip back on the TV, where Larry Sanders will live on forever.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.