Garry Shandling, ‘Larry Sanders Show’ Star, Dies at 66

Iconic star of “The Garry Shandling Show” helped revolutionize TV comedy

Garry Shandling

Garry Shandling, the charmingly subversive comedian who upended television traditions with “It’s Garry Shandling‘s Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” has died at age 66 of a heart attack, TMZ reported.

With his 1980s series “It’s Garry Shandling Show,” Shandling helped revolutionize TV comedy by breaking down the wall between himself and his viewers. His style was warm and ironic at once, and his self-effacing character paved the way for shows like “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “The Sarah Silverman Program,” all of which also featured comedians detachedly playing flawed versions of themselves.

One of the most memorable episodes, his 1988 presidential election special, was quintessential Garry. He spent the episode celebrating Democrat Michael Dukakis’ win — he even had dancers — only to realize, at the last second, that his candidate of choice had been crushed by George Bush.

His 1990s HBO series “The Larry Sanders Show” broke down the late-night TV format just as “It’s Garry Shandling‘s Show” had reimagined the sitcom. Shandling played Sanders, the temperamental host of a nighttime show that welcome real celebrities, playing themselves, having sometimes touchy interactions with Sanders — a decidedly grumpier character than the good-natured, nervous man at the heart of “Shandling.”

His constantly sniping co-stars included a murderers’ row of comic actors including Silverman, Jeffrey Tambor, future “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk, and Mary Lynn Rajskub

In recent years, Shandling became a mentor to a generation of comedians who revered him, and held literal court with basketball games where he dispensed advice along with free throws. A 2010 GQ profile noted that he had guided people including Silverman, Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Ricky Gervais, and Sacha Baron Cohen, and described a typical game:

Every Sunday he’s in Los Angeles, Shandling calls the game for noon. The invitation-only crowd gathers in his kitchen to drink coffee, and at twelve thirty everyone heads out the patio doors, past the pool, and down a series of steps into the lower yard. As is the custom, the first person to reach the half-court grabs a leaf blower and sweeps it clean. Then they play: three-on-three to seven points, win by two. When only the regulars show–they include Sarah Silverman, Kevin Nealon, David Duchovny, and “Friday Night Lights” creator Peter Berg–no one sits out for long. Other times, you’re lucky to get on the court. Sacha Baron Cohen and Adam Sandler have played, as have Ben Stiller and Billy Crystal. Judd Apatow plays infrequently, but only, he says, because “Sarah’s better than me, and it’s shameful for me, as a man, to accept that.”

He also joined Jerry Seinfeld for an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” in which he complained of his recent health problems:

“So it turns out I had a hyperparathyroid gland, that was undiagnosed because the symptoms mirrored the exact same symptoms an older Jewish man would have: You know, lethargic, you get puffy, you get heavy. You kind of realize you want a divorce even though you’re not married,” he said.

In addition to his work on television and stellar stand up comedy career, Shandling also appeared in several memorable film roles.

The tragically under-appreciated gem “What Planet Are You From?”–which Shandling helped write in 2000–saw him play an alien from an all-male planet who is sent to Earth to impregnate a human woman.

He also appeared in a scene-stealing role as Senator Stern in the Marvel movies “Iron Man 2” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Tony Maglio contributed to this story.