The entertainment world lost a giant yesterday when Garry Marshall, creator of some of the most popular television shows in the medium’s history and a director of some of the most beloved movies of the last 30 years, died after what The New York Times called “a series of strokes.” He was 81 years old.

Marshall’s career spanned half a century in Hollywood. In the 1960s, he wrote for television shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show. He turned the beloved Neil Simon play The Odd Couple into a long-running television show with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. Then he cranked out one hit after another: Happy DaysLaverne and Shirley, and Mork & Mindy. He had a knack for characters the audience loved, and loved to laugh with rather than at. It is not an understatement to say that a generation of Americans were raised on Marshall comedies.

In the 1980s, Marshall turned his focus to film, where he proved just as skilled at crafting stories and characters viewers loved. Before he got his hands on Pretty Woman, it was, in the words of star Julia Roberts, “a really dark and depressing, horrible, terrible story about two horrible people.” Marshall turned it into a sunny romantic comedy about a sex worker who falls for her wealthy client, which then turned Julia Roberts into a superstar, and the movie into a cultural sensation. Pretty Woman became one of the biggest hits of the 1990s. (Adjusted for inflation, Pretty Woman made over $850 million worldwide.) Once again, Marshall’s work touched an entire generation; almost everyone between the ages of 25 and 40 has seen Pretty Woman, some of them many, many times. (It’s one of my wife’s favorite movies.)

Marshall’s other movies as a director include The Flamingo KidBeaches, and The Princess Diaries. In recent years, his record was spottier; he reteamed Julia Roberts and her Pretty Woman co-star, Richard Gere, in the popular Runaway Bride but his recent comedies centered around holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day were less entertaining (if mostly big hits; Marshall understood his audience better than most). Still, he clearly loved what he did right until they end, and that showed in all of his work, and by all accounts from the colleagues he left behind, he was a genuinely good guy, something that seems in short supply these days. He will be missed.

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