Obituary: Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall in April 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption Garry Marshall in April 2016

In a career spanning half a century, Garry Marshall made people laugh and cry with a string of romantic comedies and hit sitcoms.

The writer, director and actor was behind Hollywood blockbusters Pretty Woman, Beaches and The Princess Diaries.

But it was his work in sitcoms - including Happy Days and Mork and Mindy, which launched the career of Robin Williams - that first endeared Marshall to audiences around the world.

Marshall once said in an interview that comedy had always been his path in life.

He said: "In the neighbourhood where we grew up in, the Bronx, you only had a few choices.

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

'One thousand episodes'

Garry Marshall was born in New York in November 1934 and raised in the Bronx. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and then got a job at the New York Daily News.

But in the 1960s, he started selling jokes to comedians, going on to write sketches for The Tonight Show which caught the eye of comedian Joey Bishop, who took him to Los Angeles to write for his own show.

Along with then-writing partner Jerry Belson, Marshall wrote scripts for some of the most popular TV comedies of that decade, including The Lucy Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

The pair also turned their hand to screenwriting in 1967, with How Sweet It Is, starring Debbie Reynolds, and The Grasshopper in 1970.

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Image caption Garry Marshall, far right, with fellow Happy Days producers Ed Milkis and Tom Miller

That same year, they turned The Odd Couple - which had been a Broadway hit - into a sitcom, produced by Marshall and starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, which would go on to run for five seasons.

In the mid 1970s, he created perhaps one of his biggest hits, Happy Days. The sitcom, set in the 1950s to 60s, went on to run for 10 years.

He also created Laverne & Shirley, starring his sister Penny Marshall, and Mork and Mindy, featuring then unknown Robin Williams as an extraterrestrial who comes to earth.

By the end of the decade, the sitcoms were three of the top five comedies on air in the US.

He once estimated he was responsible for 1,000 sitcom episodes.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Marshall with Hector Elizondo, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere at the premiere of Runaway Bride

In his autobiography, Wake Me When It's Funny, Marshall wrote of his body of work on the small screen: "Critics have knocked me for targeting society's lowest common denominator.

"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?''

Turning his attention to the big screen, his films included 1984's The Flamingo Kid, starring Matt Dillon, which he wrote and directed, along with Overboard in 1987, starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and tearjerker Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, in 1988.

'Heart of gold'

In 1990, he directed Pretty Woman, which propelled Julia Roberts into the limelight, and went on to also direct the actress in Runaway Bride nine years later.

Richard Gere, who starred in both films, said of Marshall: "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."

The following decade saw him produce Anne Hathaway hit The Princess Diaries, in 2001.

His career also saw him take to the screen himself in supporting roles, including a casino boss in Lost in America and a network executive in Soapdish.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Marshall, second left, receiving an award in 2008 watched by Henry Winkler, Cindy Williams and Jack Klugman, who all appeared in his sitcoms

Marshall's most recent work included serving as a consultant in the 2015 reboot of The Odd Couple - starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon - and appearing in an episode of the sitcom earlier this year.

His credits also included 2010's romantic comedy Valentine's Day, which had an ensemble cast including Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher, Bradley Cooper and Taylor Swift, and Mother's Day, starring Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson, which was released in April.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Marshall also worked with Roberts, seen here with Shirley MacLaine and Emma Roberts, on films including 2010's Valentine's Day

In an interview earlier this year, Marshall also discussed plans for a third Princess Diaries film and a musical version of Pretty Woman - saying his work, and six grandchildren, were continuing to keep him busy.

Marshall died in hospital in California of complications from pneumonia, following a stroke.

He is survived by wife Barbara and their children Lori, Kathleen and Scott.

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