The Simpsons' co-creator Sam Simon dies at age 59

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sam Simon, a co-creator of Fox's long-running hit animated series The Simpsons and an ardent philanthropist for animals, died after a battle with colon cancer, his agent said on Monday. He was 59.

Simon won nine Emmy awards for his work as a writer and executive producer of The Simpsons, the situation comedy that premiered in 1989 and won over a global audience with its portrait of a bumbling father and his wayward family.

The show's co-creator Matt Groening, who worked with Simon to develop the show for Fox's broadcast channel, said in a statement: "We will miss Sam's phenomenal talents, sharp intelligence, and sly sense of humour."

Executive producer and showrunner Al Jean added: "I personally owe him more than can be repaid, but I will do my best to help every animal I can in his memory."

Doctors first gave Simon three to six months to live when he was diagnosed with incurable colon cancer in 2012.

Simon, who had founded the Sam Simon Foundation in 2002, decided to give away his fortune, estimated by media at US$100 million.

"I have a desire to help animals," Simon told Reuters last August. "The question of whether it makes financial sense, it's my money and I get to do what I want with it. It's an expensive hobby I picked up at the end of my life."

Growing up in Beverly Hills, California, he embraced art and was selling cartoons to San Francisco newspapers while still a student at Stanford University.

In 1988, he joined cartoonist Groening and producer James L. Brooks in creating The Simpsons prime-time series.

He oversaw the writing staff and helped develop the characters populating the dysfunctional world around the oafish but endearing Homer Simpson: his dutiful wife, Marge, and their children, bratty Bart, overachieving Lisa and baby Maggie.

"Sam helped establish the tone and world of the Simpsons in the early years of this landmark series, and his contributions live on," Fox Television group said in a statement.

The show was a smart social satire built around crass characters and it became the longest-running sitcom on American television.

After four seasons of The Simpsons, Simon negotiated a deal to leave the show while retaining a percentage of its future earnings, which would bring him between US$20 million (S$27.6 million) and US$30 million a year. He is still listed as executive producer in the show's credits.