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Garry Shandling, the envelope-pushing comedian best known for playing a fictional talk show host on "The Larry Sanders Show," died Thursday in a Los Angeles-area hospital, NBC News has learned. He was 66.
Shandling was felled by a heart attack and was pronounced dead at St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica after being transported there from his home around 10:40 a.m. by the Los Angeles Fire Department, sources said.
Word of his passing stunned his friends. He was not known to be ill and recently retweeted Kathy Griffin's photo of herself with him and actor Bob Odenkirk.
“Sunday, my longtime friend Garry Shandling was here, making every1 laugh. I loved him. I'll miss our talks the most,” Griffin tweeted after the sad news broke.
Word of his passing drew condolences from other famous funnymen like Fred Willard, who said he was heartbroken.
Born in Chicago and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Shandling was majoring in electrical engineering and working towards a marketing degree at the University of Arizona when he was beckoned by the bright lights of Hollywood.
Shandling got his first break selling scripts to sitcoms like "Sanford and Son" and "Welcome Back, Kotter." That led to stints guest-hosting "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
Armed with a toothy grin and a self-deprecating wit, Shandling quickly became a contender to replace Carson. But that was not to be. And in 1986, Shandling created "It's Garry Shandling's Show" for Showtime which ran until 1990 and garnered four Emmy nominations.
It was a groundbreaking and influential show in that Shandling played a version of himself and would sometimes directly address the audience.
He found more success with "The Larry Sanders" show on HBO, which ran from 1992 to 1998 and earned 18 Emmy nominations — and finally won one for the series finale. It too is considered a highly influential comedy which helped spawn other series like "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
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Shandling was so devoted to the show that he turned down an offer to host "The Late Late Show." He also turned down a $5 million offer from NBC to take over "Late Night" when David Letterman split for CBS.
Shandling hosted both the Grammys and Emmys Awards and snagged small-but-funny part in movies like "Mixed Nuts" and "Zoolander."
His last movie role was in 2014 playing a corrupt senator in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Then, in January, Shandling appeared with his pal Jerry Seinfeld in an episode of the online comedy series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
It was entitled "It's Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive."
Shandling never married but lived with former Playboy model Linda Doucett from 1987 until 1994. His true love was comedy.
"Without comedy as a defense mechanism, I wouldn't be able to survive," he once said.