The Simpson’s co-creator, Sam Simon, is leaving his fortune to help animals, the hungry, and sea conservation, among others.
A few years ago, I rang in a birthday at a Hollywood dive. In keeping with the bar’s 1970s wood paneling and ironworks scrolling, the atmosphere was set to “hipster dim.” This meant that if you squinted a lot, you could make out the ironic sunbonnet on the girl next to you. Soon my friend Ron showed up with his buddy, Sam. Sam and I squinted at each other, and he offered to buy me a birthday drink. We shared some booze, after which I wandered off to greet my other guests and continue my yearly homage to the Birthday Girl Who Drank…Too Much.
I didn’t think of Sam Simon again until the end of the night, when I slouched over to settle the bill. This is when I found out that he had not only bought me a drink—Sam had paid my tab, plus the tabs of all my guests. I was completely floored. I’d already put in a few years as a writer’s assistant in Hollywood, so I knew that random acts of altruism were about as common as a discreetly shy reality star.
I went rushing around the bar to thank him, but he had already left the hipster gloom for greener pastures and better lighting. I never got to thank him personally for his generosity. Also, I’ve never forgotten it.
I felt that same rush of good will when I read the headlines last week, such as “Simpsons Co-Creator Sam Simon Donating Fortune to Charity…” But when the lead was followed by “….While Battling Terminal Cancer,” I was sadder than I had any real right to be. I’m not part of Sam’s cadre of friends, but I can attest that he’s a stand-up guy who kept a bunch of baby writers in drinks one night. Despite being cruelly subjected to Hollywood hipsters and eye strain.
Professionally, Simon collects accolades like most people collect plastic shopping bags. Getting his start on Taxi in the early 1980s, he rose to showrunner at age 24 before moving on to iconic shows like Cheers and The Tracey Ullman Show. He went on to become the co-creator of ridiculously long-running and successful live-action animated empire, The Simpsons. Winner of nine Emmys, he’s spent the past two decade working on The Drew Carey Show and lately, executive producing FX’s Anger Management.
Like all good emperors of comedy, Simon has made a lot of cash over the years, earning some tens of millions each year from The Simpsons alone. But instead of sitting back and buying gold-plated toilets a la Kardashian, he poured his money into charity. The Sam Simon Foundation, which The Hollywood Reporter shares, had a net worth of $23 million in 2011, works to feed the homeless while supporting stray dogs.
Among other good deeds, the Foundation trains rescue dogs to become service animals for veterans and hearing aides for the deaf. Simon has also been a major contributor over the years to PETA and Save the Children. He has given so much to the marine Sea Shepard Conservation Society that they named a ship after him in 2012, the SSS Sam Simon.
But what makes Simon different from the one-percenters who don’t give away their fortunes? Sure, others are likewise generous. There’s JK Rowling, whose charitable giving knocked her off the Forbes’ billionaire list last year. There’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given $26.1 billion in grants since its inception. Many believe such great wealth demands repayment to society, that if you “can” you “should.” But let’s face it, many people “don’t.” So what is it about mega-donors like Simon which makes them different from their wealthy counterparts?
Perhaps the reason is really just simple altruism, which some people hold more abundantly than others. “The truth is, I have more money than I’m interested in spending,” Simon told THR. “Everyone in my family is taken care of. And I enjoy this….I don’t feel like it’s an obligation.” In fact, Simon’s charitable donations are so immense that Simon “doesn’t know” the number.
Still, when the philanthropist was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer five months ago, 58 year-old Simon decided to step up his charity game. As he told THR, “The Sam Simon Foundation is going to be very well endowed, and there’s a lot of stuff I want them to do.” Which is, of course, an incredible act of generosity. Simon is enacting this dream at the end of his life on a grand scale, but he was a humanitarian long before he was faced with devastating illness. Dying hasn’t made him this way—living has. So in the spirit of his generosity, we can acknowledge our own efforts to bring change into the world.
Sure, most of us can’t donate on the scale of a Hollywood comedy legend. But in the end, whether we’re sending of $25 or $25 million to our favorite political action group or charity, we’re still doing what we can. CNN Money notes that September 11th charities raised $1.88 billion through public appeal. Further, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami raised $2 billion, while Hurricane Katrina efforts brought in $3 billion. Turns out, we all like to give, and we don’t need a legacy behind us to do it.
Ultimately, Simon and others like him are an inspiration and reminder for the rest of us to do more because, in the end, we can, too. We can volunteer. We can donate what we can. We can take action. Even if it means buying a round of drinks for a virtual stranger and her friends with no other agenda than being kind.
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