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Garry Marshall (1934 - 2016)

Getty / Nancy R. Schiff

Garry Marshall (1934 - 2016)

Garry Marshall, the legendary creator of TV's "Happy Days" who also directed the film "Pretty Woman" that starred Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, died July 19, 2016, according to multiple news sources. He was 81.

"Happy Days" was Marshall's breakout hit, his first successful solo project after years of writing for popular television shows including "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Lucy Show." His creation, a gently silly story of idealized teen life in the 1950s and '60s, traded on nostalgia for 11 seasons and was among the top-three rated shows for three of those seasons.

One notorious "Happy Days" moment for which Marshall accepts full credit is the "jumping the shark" episode. In it, Henry Winkler, who played Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli, literally jumped over a shark on water skis. The episode came to be known as a turning point between the show's early, higher-quality, seasons and its later decline. And the phrase "jumping the shark" now stands in for that same turning point in any TV show.

Marshall admitted to The New York Times that the idea for the episode was his own, and though he thought it would be fun, in the end, "I don't think that episode was very good." But he wasn't ashamed: "At the time we put it on, viewers didn’t throw rocks at it or send letters, but later some very clever guys said that’s when the show turned. So if it’s used about a show going down, fine. I got a word into the American vernacular."


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The wild popularity of the early seasons of "Happy Days" paved the way for two equally popular spinoffs. "Laverne and Shirley" starred Marshall's sister, Penny Marshall, and though the two found working together to be difficult, the show was a late-1970s hit. And "Mork and Mindy" may have seemed like an unlikely spinoff – a show about an alien living on Earth was not the most obvious twist from a 1950s comedy – but it became a career-defining role for the young Robin Williams.

As those three shows, Marshall's top TV creations, all came to their ends by the mid-1980s, the director took a leap to the big screen, beginning with the satirical 1982 film "Young Doctors in Love." It proved a modest box office hit, but greater movie fame would come for Marshall with subsequent films. His fifth, the popular tearjerker "Beaches" (1988), was a major hit. Two years later, Marshall would release his greatest big-screen success.

"Pretty Woman" (1990) began as a much different story from the one that romantic comedy fans have adored for the past quarter century. As originally written, it was darker – no frothy love story, but a cautionary tale. It was Marshall who envisioned the change that would make the film a hit – as he told The New York Times, "I felt it was a love story, but in Jonathan Lawton’s original script, he had a different story. The prostitute he had was in her later 30s and had carried on and rolled around with hundreds. I knew if we lowered the age and made her a new girl in the business, then people would say, 'Oh, please don’t do that, honey.'"

With Roberts on board as the young prostitute and Gere as her love interest, the unlikely love story became one of the highest-grossing films of 1990 and sold more tickets than any other romantic comedy in history, a record it still holds. No sleeper hit, it shot to No. 1 at the box office in its opening weekend, and it has remained a favorite in moviegoers' hearts.

Though audiences often loved Marshall's films, critics didn't always agree. Many of his movies met harsh reviews from critics despite their popularity at the box office. Marshall continued to make movies that met these mixed reactions throughout the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, with his most notable offerings including "Runaway Bride" (1999), "The Princess Diaries" (2001), and "Valentine's Day" (2010). His final film, "Mother's Day" (2016), was released just three months before his death.

Actors who worked with Marshall shared their condolences on social media after hearing the news about his death.

"Thank you for my professional life," tweeted Winkler. "Thank you for your loyalty, friendship and generosity. Larger than life, funnier than most, wise and the definition of friend."

"Besides being the pulse and life force of 'Pretty Woman,' a steady helmsman on a ship that could have easily capsized, he was a super fine and decent man, husband and father who brought real joy and love and infectious good spirits to everything and everyone he crossed paths with," said Gere in a news release. "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."

Born Nov. 13, 1934, in New York City, Marshall is survived by his wife of 53 years, Barbara, as well as by their children, Scott, who is also a film director; Lori; and Kathleen.

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