Sam Simon was a man who lived many lives all at once. Not only was he an Emmy Award-winning television writer, animator and producer, but he was also a boxing manager, a professional poker player, an animal-rights activist, a serious art collector and a formidable philanthropist, admired for the energy and generosity with which he supported his passions. By the time of his death earlier this year at age 59, after a battle with cancer, he had dedicated his personal fortune to the causes he most cared about.
SAM SIMON. PHOTOGRAPH BY LIONEL DELUY/ CONTOUR BY GETTY IMAGES.
Simon grew up in Beverly Hills, California, where high art and popular culture mingled as a matter of course. His mother was the owner of Functional Art Gallery in Los Angeles, and as a young boy, he met many prominent artists of the time: Claes Oldenburg, Chris Burden, John Baldessari and Andy Warhol, among others. Simon himself was a gifted artist, a child prodigy whose masterful drawing skills once won him a lunch with Walt Disney. Later in life, he would tell memorable stories of growing up amid Hollywood’s elite. There was the time he walked in on his mother and Groucho Marx on his parents’ bed (he didn’t recall seeing any hanky-panky, just hearing Groucho telling a joke). When his boyhood dog went missing, the pooch was found and brought home in a limousine by none other than Elvis Presley.
Simon was immersed in the entertainment world, but it was his preternatural comedic gifts, coupled with an intense perfectionism, that shot him straight to television’s stratosphere. He was a showrunner for the hit sitcom Taxi at the age of 25 and was involved with such other groundbreaking series as Cheers, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The Tracey Ullman Show, The Drew Carey Show and of course The Simpsons, the iconic animated series he cocreated in 1989.
THE SIMPSONS JACKET, CIRCA 1990 (ESTIMATE: $500–700) WILL BE OFFERED IN THE CREATIVE
GENIUS OF SAM SIMON: A LIFETIME OF MEMORABILIA SALE ON 22 OCTOBER.
In 2002, he put his wealth to work for others. A devoted dog lover, he set up the Sam Simon Foundation, which rescues dogs and trains them to work with the hearing impaired and with veterans. That same year, he began collaborating with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and later helped fund both the Wild Animal Sanctuary and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which named one of its ships after him. Even after receiving a cancer diagnosis in 2012, Simon laboured tirelessly for his chosen charities, his dedication seeming only to intensify in the last months of his life. As he joked to his humorist friend Merrill Markoe in a 2014 profile for Vanity Fair: “People say I’m trying to buy my way into heaven, which I don’t believe in. So that can’t be true.”
ED RUSCHA’S UNTITLED, 1986 (ESTIMATE: $800,000–1,200,000) WILL BE OFFERED IN SOTHEBY’S NEW YORK CONTEMPORARY ART DAY AUCTION
ON 12 NOVEMBER.
This autumn, selections from Simon’s personal collection of art, design and pop-culture memorabilia are being sold in a series of auctions at Sotheby’s New York. Proceeds from these sales will benefit the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, which continues his lifetime efforts. His estate includes works by an array of artists including Pablo Picasso, Thomas Hart Benton, Ed Ruscha, Mel Ramos, Max Ernst and Robert Indiana, as well as by designers such as Paul Evans, Charles and Ray Eames and George Nakashima. All these pieces that he so loved testify to the fact that Simon’s tastes were as eclectic and rarified as his talents.
Jennifer Krasinski writes about art and performance for The Village Voice and artforum.com.
Property from the Collection of Sam Simon will be exhibited starting 30 October in New York. Auctions: Impressionist & Modern Art Day, 6 November; Contemporary Art Day, 12 November; American Art, 18 November; Prints, 23–24 November. Enquiries: +1 212 894 1704. For full auction and exhibition information, visit sothebys.com/samsimon.