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Comedy legend Garry Shandling is dead at 66

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Garry Shandling, the legendary writer, actor, and comedian behind The Larry Sanders Show and decades of other shows and specials, died on Thursday. He was 66. TMZ first reported the news, and according to initial reports Shandling had not been publicly battling any sort of long-term illness, and instead died as a result of a "medical emergency."

Shandling's career stretched back decades, with the comedian first getting his start as a writer on the '70s television show Sanford and Son. It was only after starting working in television that he moved to stand-up, and Shandling soon became a regular on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. Comedy specials for HBO and Showtime followed, but Shandling found an entirely different kind of voice when he created It's Garry Shandling's Show for Showtime. The program is probably best described as a meta-sitcom, using the standard three-camera sitcom format to tell the story of a bunch of characters that actually knew they were living in the world of a television show. Shandling would often play directly to camera and the live studio audience, and while it wasn't a huge commercial success, it earned critical raves and ran for four seasons on the network.

From meta-sitcom to meta-talk show

Shandling subverted another television favorite — the talk show — in 1992 with The Larry Sanders Show. Inspired by the comedian's time filling in for Carson in the '80s, The Larry Sanders Show was a mockumentary about a fictional talk show, showing the on-camera and behind-the-scenes wackiness of late night TV. Along with Shandling starring as Sanders himself, the show was full of a who's who of modern comedic and dramatic talent, including Jeffrey Tambor, Bob Odenkirk, Rip Torn, Jeremy Piven, and Scott Thompson. Over its six seasons, The Larry Sanders Show was nominated for 56 Emmy Awards, and was the first cable show to be nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Continuing to cross the line between fantasy and reality, Shandling also served as host for multiple awards shows, including multiple stints at The Emmys and The Grammy Awards. Shandling also spent time in movies, appearing as himself in movies like Zoolander, but also showing up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a nefarious US Senator. Recently, he appeared alongside Jerry Seinfeld in a 2016 episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

But in terms of sheer influence, Shandling's impact on both performers and the television medium itself can't be understated. It was seen best on Twitter, as modern comedians and filmmakers sent out message after message honoring the late comedian. They were all summed up best by Ghostbusters director Paul Feig. "Absolutely can't process the loss of Garry Shandling," Feig wrote. "Such a genius, such a wonderful man, such an inspiration. I was so honored to know him."