Back in 1988, legendary television producer James Brooks approached former Taxi showrunner Sam Simon and asked him to help develop the animated series that would eventually become The Simpsons. Simon stuck around for four years and about 100 episodes, putting together the writing room that is widely regarded as one of the best in comedy history, before leaving after a falling out with Matt Groening. On the way out he negotiated a deal that gave him a slice of the show’s future licensing and merchandising, which works out to tens of millions of dollar every year, and hundreds of millions over the past 20 years.
Simon was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in 2012 and given 3-6 months to live. Despite that initial prognosis, Simon is still kicking today and intent on spending the time he has left giving his fortune away to the causes he believes in — mostly notably, animal rights and feeding the hungry. Simon discussed this last year on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast (a great listen, fyi), but Vanity Fair has a lengthy update about Simon and his quest in this month’s issue. The entire thing is worth a read for a lot of reasons, including a pretty great Don King story, but here’s the relevant chunk about his philanthropy.
“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.
The article also reveals that, in addition to becoming one of the country’s more notable philanthropists, Simon was responsible for the original sketches of Mr. Burns, as well as “Dr. Hibbert. Chief Wiggum. Eddie, Lou, Bleeding Gums Murphy. All the black people.” That’s a pretty full life right there.