Garry Marshall 'had a heart of the purest gold and a soul full of mischief'

Garry Marshall was a prolific creator of feel-good and coming-of-age hits on the big and small screens, whose work placed him solidly in the hearts of generations of American viewers.

Rich Fury/Invision/AP/File
Garry Marshall pictured at the 2016 TV Land Icon Awards in Santa Monica, Calif., in April. Writer-director Marshall, whose TV hits included 'Happy Days' 'Laverne & Shirley' and box-office successes included 'Pretty Woman' and 'Runaway Bride,' died Tuesday.

Writer, producer, director Garry Marshall, who died Tuesday, leaves behind him a such long resume of well-loved Hollywood and television classics – from "Happy Days" to "Pretty Woman" – that it would be difficult to choose any one as his crowning achievement.

Along the way, Mr. Marshall launched stars into fame and earned their love for his kindness and mentorship. Testament to that has been seen in the outpouring of sentiment from those who knew him since his death, at age 81, was announced earlier today.

"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," said "Pretty Woman" star Richard Gere in a statement.

"The world has lost a great man, a comedy icon and a wonderful friend," tweeted comedian Bob Saget.

Comedy was a thread that ran throughout Marshall's work. It was also a trait that he says he picked up from from his mother – who Marshall described as "funnier than anybody I ever worked for" in a 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television, and one that he put to use while growing up in Bronx, N.Y., in the 1930s and 1940s.

"In the neighborhood where we grew up, in the Bronx, you only had a few choices," Marshall said in a 1980s interview. "You were either an athlete or a gangster, or you were funny."

The early chapters of Marshall's show biz career began in the 1960s, when he focused on television. He earned his chops doing comedy writing for comedians and then for "The Tonight Show" with Jack Paar, before heading out to Los Angeles to write for "The Joey Bishop Show."

Marshall really fell into his groove when he entered the world of sitcoms, starting by writing scripts for '60s hits such as "The Lucy Show" with Lucille Ball and "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and then gaining success for his own endeavor when he and then-writing partner Jerry Belson transformed Neil Simon's Broadway hit, "The Odd Couple" into a television series that ran for five seasons, which Marshall produced.

From there Marshall kept churning out hits, as his shows such as the American classic "Happy Days" (1974-84), and later "Laverne and Shirley" (1976-83), which starred his sister Penny Marshall, and "Mork and Mindy" (1978-82), where Robin Williams got his start, all emerged as top-rated programs.

Responding to criticism that his television work pandered to "society's lowest common denominator," Marshall wrote in his 1995 autobiography, "Wake Me When It's Funny”:

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?

The longest running of the shows he created, "Happy Days," showcased many of the themes that characterized Marshall's work – from family, friendship, and coming-of-age to the magic that can come from the juxtapositions of unlikely pairs, in this case the straight-laced Richie, played by Ron Howard, and his foil and friend the Fonz, played by Henry Winkler.

Both Mr. Howard and Mr. Winkler took to Twitter to express their loss and their appreciation for the support of Marshall, who they both began working with as young men, early in their careers.

Marshall moved his focus into a new arena in the 1980s – directing film, but preserved his love of comedy, romance, and tales of family, friendship, and unlikely pairings, embodied by his 1990 smash hit "Pretty Woman," which told the love story of a prostitute, Julia Roberts, and a businessman, Richard Gere, or 1986's "Nothing in Common" which explored the relationship between a vastly different father and son and starred Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason.

Though Marshall was known for making time for his family and life away from show business, he also fit in appearances in front of the camera, with a series of cameo appearances and small roles in films and television.

Throughout his time directing for the big screen, Marshall worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, from Mr. Gere and Ms. Roberts to Goldie Hawn, Jane Fonda, and Ann Hathaway, whom he directed at the debut of her celebrity when she played a San Francisco teen who discovers she's a princess in 2001's "The Princess Diaries."

While reflecting on the kinds of projects he likes to do in a 1990 interview with The New York Times, Marshall said, "I like to do very romantic, sentimental type of work. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it."

Though he was 81 this year, Marshall continued doing what he did best – his last film, "Mother’s Day," which starred Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, and Ms. Hawn's daughter Kate Hudson, was released this past spring.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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