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Garry Marshall, creator of Happy Days and Pretty Woman, dies aged 81

He was responsible for a string of sitcom successes.

Image: AP

WRITER-DIRECTOR GARRY Marshall, responsible for a string of TV hits that included Happy Days and the box-office successes Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride, has died at the age of 81.

Marshall died yesterday in at a hospital in Burbank, California, of complications from pneumonia after having a stroke, his publicist Michelle Bega said in a statement.

The director also had an on-screen presence, using his New York accent and gruff delivery in colourful supporting roles that included a practical-minded casino boss unswayed by Albert Brooks’ disastrous luck in Lost in America and a crass network executive in Soapdish.

“A great, great guy and the best casino boss in the history of film,” actor-filmmaker Brooks posted on Twitter.

Henry Winkler, who starred as Fonzie on Happy Days, saluted Marshall in a tweet as “larger than life, funnier than most, wise and the definition of friend”.

Richard Gere, who starred opposite Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, said in a statement that “everyone loved Garry. He was a mentor and a cheerleader and one of the funniest men who ever lived. He had a heart of the purest gold and a soul full of mischief. He was Garry.”

Marshall, brother of actress-director Penny Marshall, earned a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and worked at the New York Daily News. But he found he was better at writing punchlines.

“In the neighbourhood where we grew up in, the Bronx, you only had a few choices,” Marshall said in a 1980s interview.

You were either an athlete or a gangster, or you were funny.

The Odd Couple

Garry Marshall, Barbara Marshall Source: AP

He rejected retirement, serving as a consultant on CBS’ 2015 reboot of The Odd Couple, starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon, and appearing in an episode this year as Oscar’s father, Walter.

Among his final credits was Mother’s Day, a film released last April starring Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Roberts.

He began his entertainment career in the 1960s selling jokes to comedians, then moved to writing sketches for The Tonight Show with Jack Paar in New York. He caught the eye of comic Joey Bishop, who brought him to Los Angeles to write for The Joey Bishop Show.

Sitcoms quickly proved to be Marshall’s forte. He and then-writing partner Jerry Belson turned out scripts for the most popular comedies of the ’60s, including The Lucy Show, ‘The Danny Thomas Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Marshall and Belson detoured into screenwriting in 1967 with How Sweet It Is, starring Debbie Reynolds, and followed it up with The Grasshoppers (1970) with Jacqueline Bisset. But the two men kept their hand in TV.

In 1970, they turned Neil Simon’s Broadway hit, The Odd Couple, into a sitcom starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall and produced by Marshall. It ran for five seasons and proved the beginning of a TV sitcom empire.

Happy Days

Obit-Garry Marshall_Acos (3) p producers of the television comedy show Happy Days, from left, Ed Milkis, Tom Miller and Garry Marshall Source: Nick Ut

In January 1979, Marshall had three of the top five comedies on the air with Happy Days, which ran from 1974-84; Laverne & Shirley (1976-83), which starred Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, and Mork and Mindy (1978-82) with newcomer Robin Williams.

“Critics have knocked me for targeting society’s lowest common denominator,” he said in his 1995 autobiography, Wake Me When It’s Funny, written with his daughter, Lori Marshall.

I believe that television was, and still is, the only medium that can truly reach society’s lowest common denominator and entertain those people who maybe can’t afford a movie or a play. So why not reach them and do it well?

Penny Marshall told The New York Times in 2001 that her brother “has a life. He’s not into the show business glitterati. If he has a hot movie, that’s great. But if he has something that doesn’t do great, he’s not around those people who won’t speak to you or will make you feel terrible.”

After cranking out what Marshall once estimated to be 1,000 sitcom episodes, he switched his focus to the big screen with 1984′s The Flamingo Kid, a coming-of-age story starring Matt Dillon, which Marshall wrote and directed.

He concentrated on directing with his later films, including 1986′s Nothing in Common, with Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason; Overboard (1987) starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell; Beaches (1988) with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey; Pretty Woman (1990) and Dear God (1996) with Greg Kinnear and Laurie Metcalf.

The Gere-Roberts pairing that helped make Pretty Woman a smash hit did the same for Runaway Bride, which reunited them in 1999. The Princess Diaries in 2001 was another winner, although Marshall suffered a flop with Georgia Rule (2007), starring Jane Fonda and Lindsay Lohan.

Marshall is survived by his wife, Barbara, and the couple’s three children, Lori, Kathleen and Scott.

Funeral services will be private but a memorial is being planned for his birthday on 13 November, his publicist’s statement said.

Read: Limerick women who perished in 1972 Greek fire to be remembered in special Rhodes ceremony>

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