The first time I met Sam Simon, I didn’t particularly like him. I was at the Sovereign Center in Reading, Pennsylvania, for the February 2, 2002, fight between Bernard Hopkins and Carl Daniels. Sam was managing Lamon Brewster, who was fighting Nate Jones on the undercard.
Sam came over, introduced himself, and told me he liked my writing. There are some people you just don’t take to. Several months later, I saw Sam at another fight. We talked again, and I said to myself, “Hauser, you were wrong. This is a really good guy.”
A friendship followed.
Sam died on March 8. I’d like to share some memories of him.
Sam was born and raised in Southern California. One of his earliest memories, dating to age four, was of finding his mother in pari delicto with Groucho Marx.
“I was a child of Hollywood,” he told me. “If not literally, then certainly in a figurative sense.”
Sam had a privileged upbringing. He went to Beverly Hills High School and was an undergraduate at Stanford, where he worked as a cartoonist for the school newspaper. That led to assignments from the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner. Next, he was hired as a story-board artist at Filmation Studios, where he worked on a number of projects, including Fat Albert.
“Then I wrote a script on spec for Taxi and sent it in,” Sam reminisced, when I wrote a profile about him in 2004. “They liked it; they made it; and all of a sudden, at age twenty-three, I was producing Taxi.”
The entries on Sam’s resume after that were the stuff of dreams. He was a writer, director, producer, and creative consultant for Cheers, The Drew Carey Show, The George Carlin Show, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Barney Miller, Best of the West, Bless This House, Men Behaving Badly, Norm, and The Tracey Ullman Show.
The latter venture led to Sam’s greatest creative and commercial triumph. Each segment of Tracey Ullman contained a one-minute animated segment. Sam and co-producer James L. Brooks thought that the animated characters were strong enough to support a half-hour series. In 1989, they launched The Simpsons, which became the longest-running animated series in the history of prime-time network television.
“I’m delighted with all the success The Simpsons had,” Sam told me. “But it bothers me that I helped to build Fox.”
When The Simpsons was sold into syndicaton, Sam received tens of millions of dollars. He was a dedicated animal-rights activist, and put most of that money into the Sam Simon Foundation. Through it, he funded a program that rescues dogs from shelters and trains them as companions for the deaf. He donated so generously to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (a global marine conservation group) that the organization named one of its four ships the M/Y Simon. PETA’s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, are in The Sam Simon Center.
Sam’s bounty from The Simpsons also led to his involvement with boxing.
“I was a fan of two sports: football and boxing,” he told me years ago. “I knew I couldn’t own an NFL franchise, but I thought I might be able to manage a heavyweight champion. I knew Lamon Brewster from the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles. I’d seen him fight. The word around Southern California was that he was a prospect. Then Freddie Roach told me that Lamon was having managerial problems, so I put my lawyer on the case and became his manager.”
Brewster’s first fight under Sam’s guidance was a second-round knockout of Mario Cawley on June 22, 1999. Sam took a modest ten percent of Lamon’s purses, and Lamon lived rent-free in a house that Sam owned. On April 19, 2004, Brewster knocked out Wladimir Klitschko to claim the WBO heavyweight crown. Then Lamon dumped Sam for Al Haymon. That hurt Sam terribly. It wasn’t about the money. He had more than enough money to live in comfort for a dozen lifetimes. He felt betrayed by a friend.
Meanwhile, my own friendship with Sam blossomed. I wasn’t in his inner circle. But I enjoyed our time together and think he did too.
As a bonus; every two years or so, Sam would call and say, “I’m in New York. Do you want to go to the Giants game tomorrow?”
Going to a pro football game with Sam was an experience. You were chauffeured to and from the stadium. Your seats were on the fifty-yard-line. And best of all, you got to spend an entire afternoon with Sam.
In early 2013, Sam telephoned to chat. I asked how he was, and he answered, “I’m fine, except I’m dying.”
I thought he was joking. Sam had a strange sense of humor. It was part of his genius.
“I have cancer. And it’s not good.”
The previous autumn, Sam hadn’t been feeling well. He went to his doctor, hoping it was just a virus. After a battery of tests, he was told he had colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver, kidneys, and lymph nodes.
“The question now is how long the doctors can keep me alive. Some people say, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ and roll over and die. That’s not me. All my life, I’ve been accused of having a bad attitude, of being combative and thinking that rules don’t apply to me. When the best doctors in the world tell you that you have three to six months to live, that’s a good attitude to have.”
The cancer was a particularly cruel twist of fate given the fact that Sam had followed standard medical practice by undergoing a colonoscopy every five years.
“With your family’s medical history, you should have had colonoscopies more often,” one of the doctors told him.
“Now you tell me,” Sam responded.
I never saw Sam again. But we continued our telephone conversations. Sam was one of the people I exchanged ideas with when I wrote essays about The Beatles and Frank Sinatra during the past two years. We talked about boxing and also his illness. With Sam’s knowledge, I took notes on our conversations. His moods encompassed a range of emotions. Some of his thoughts follow:
* “I’ve had a particularly rough time with the chemo. I know chemo is hard on everyone. But for whatever reason, it’s been particularly hard on me. But there are days now when I feel pretty good. Hopefully, something good is happening.”
* “I had a gloomy conversation with my doctor today. I’ll be on chemo for the rest of my life, however long that is. The side effects are pretty unpleasant and will become permanent. I’m on a trial drug now, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
* “I’m pretty good, considering that I’m in hospice care. I had a scare with liver failure last month but bounced back. They found a chemo drug that I’m doing pretty well on. The problem is, they expect it will stop working soon and they’ll have to experiment with something else.”
* “I’m working one day a week now on this Charlie Sheen show. There’s something wrong with that. I spend my career working on some of the greatest shows in the history of television and wind up working on Charlie Sheen.”
Near the end, Sam shared some thoughts with Maria Shriver during an interview on NBC. They bear repeating now as part of his legacy:
“Cancer is a horrible disease. It’s everything that everybody always tells you. But somehow I ended up surrounded by people who love me and take care of me and will do anything for me. That is called happiness. I think I may have had a problem letting it in before. Cancer has been a fight, a journey, an adventure, and the most amazing experience of my life.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.