Tributes pour in for film and TV legend Garry Marshall

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

Director Garry Marshall attends the premiere of Mother's Day in Los Angeles in April. Phil McCarten / Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Filmmaker Garry Marshall knew how to tug at moviegoers' heartstrings, whether with an unlikely love story in Pretty Woman, or a sentimental examination of loss in Beaches.

But it was goofy, crowd-pleasing comedy that first endeared the American writer and director to generations of TV viewers around the world, in hit 1970s sitcoms including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy.

Marshall, who died on Tuesday at the age of 81, said in a 1980s interview that humour was his necessary path in life.

“In the neighbourhood where we grew up, in The Bronx [in New York], you only had a few choices. You were either an athlete or a gangster – or you were funny,” he said.

He also had memorable on-screen presence, using his hometown accent and gruff delivery in colourful supporting roles that included a casino boss in the Albert Brooks movie Lost in America, and a crass network executive in Soapdish.

Marshall died in hospital of complications from pneumonia following a stroke, his publicist Michelle Bega said. Tributes quickly began to pour in.

Richard Gere, who starred with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, which Marshall directed, said 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".

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

Marshall rejected retirement, most recently serving as a consultant on last year's TV reboot of The Odd Couple, starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon, also appearing in an episode this year as Oscar's father, Walter.

The last film he directed, released in April, was Mother's Day, starring Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Julia Roberts.

The brother of actress-director Penny Marshall (who starred as Laverne in Laverne & Shirley), Marshall studied journalism and started out working at the New York Daily News. But he soon found he was better at writing punchlines.

He began his entertainment career in the 1960s selling jokes and sketches to comedians.

Sitcoms quickly proved to be his forte. He and writing partner Jerry Belson wrote for the most popular comedies of the 1960s, including The Lucy Show, The Danny Thomas Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

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

In January 1979, Marshall had three of the top five TV comedies: Happy Days, which ran from 1974 to 1984; Laverne & Shirley (1976 to 1983); and Mork & Mindy (1978 to 1982) starring newcomer Robin Williams.

After cranking out what Marshall once estimated to be 1,000 sitcom episodes, he switched his focus to the big screen. He concentrated on directing, with films including Overboard (1987) starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell; Beaches (1988) with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey; and Pretty Woman (1990). The Gere-Roberts pairing that helped make Pretty Woman a smash hit did the same for Runaway Bride in 1999. The Princess Diaries in 2001 was another winner.

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