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Remembering Garry Marshall: loyal alumnus and Hollywood giant

'Happy Days' creator, 'Pretty Woman' director kept close ties with Northwestern until his death

  • Rose to fame for 1970s sitcoms 'Mork & Mindy,' 'Laverne & Shirley'
  • Graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Medill School of Journalism in 1956
  • Lighthearted approach to filmmaking touched, delighted people around the world

EVANSTON - Famed director, producer and proud Northwestern University alumnus Garry Marshall, an esteemed Hollywood icon whose lighthearted approach to filmmaking touched and delighted people around the world, has died at the age of 81.

He passed away Tuesday evening, July 19, from complications of pneumonia following a stroke at a hospital in Burbank, California, according to a statement from his publicist.  

The Hollywood giant rose to fame in the 1970s with his creation of beloved sitcoms such as “Happy Days,” “Mork & Mindy” and “Laverne & Shirley” and became well known for his romantic comedies, including “Pretty Woman,” “Runaway Bride” and “The Princess Diaries.”

Nobody was prouder to be associated with Northwestern than Garry. He was as purple as anyone I have ever met.”

Morton Schapiro
Northwestern President
Marshall, originally from New York City, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism in 1956. Two of his children received degrees from Northwestern’s School of Communication, and his third child received two degrees from Medill. One of his granddaughters will be a junior at Northwestern in the fall.

A storyteller at heart who said he tried to make films celebrating “the human spirit,” Marshall was a beloved Northwestern alum who remembered his roots and often returned to his alma mater to encourage students and lecture, giving back some of the purple pride he loved to champion. Whether it was a Wildcat hat or sweatshirt, he often sported his Northwestern gear on set and off.

Watch a video of Garry Marshall talk about his time as an undergraduate.

A life trustee of Northwestern University, Marshall had a hand in the creation or support of several buildings on campus, including the Barbara and Garry Marshall Studio Wing in John J. Louis Hall and the Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center, which was named after his mother. He also was a major contributor to the recently constructed Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.

"Nobody was prouder to be associated with Northwestern than Garry. He was as purple as anyone I have ever met,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said. "He was a great man and a creative genius. I was so proud to have him as a friend.”

A member of Medill’s Hall of Achievement, Marshall earned five Emmy nominations over the course of his career -- four for “The Odd Couple” and one for “Mork & Mindy” -- and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Marshall was also an actor, including making cameos in his own films. He had a recurring role on “Murphy Brown” as the head of the network and guested on shows such as “Monk” and “The Sarah Silverman Show.” He played a part in his sister Penny’s “A League of Their Own” as a baseball team owner. He also appeared in his son Scott Marshall’s 2006 comedy “Keeping Up with the Steins.”

Actor Zach Braff, a fellow Northwestern alum, memorialized Marshall on Instagram saying, “I cannot possibly convey to you how much Garry Marshall meant to me. He was the kindest man you’d ever have met. His talent made me laugh more than most people ever have. … He was a legend. RIP to one of the greatest comedy writer/directors to have ever lived on our tiny little rock.”

Another Northwestern alum, Seth Meyers, tweeted, “Garry Marshall was as sweet as he was generous, and he told a great story. He will be missed.”

Marshall credited his writing skills to a Northwestern class that asked students to write under pressure while contending with distractions such as fire alarms and yelling people.

“I’ve had to write under even more pressure than that,” Marshall said during a May 10 visit to Northwestern’s Evanston campus. “But I learned back then in that class the important thing was to finish.”

“I tell everyone that college is important,” he continued. “In college, you can try things and fail, and they don’t hit you or anything. In real life, if you fail, they might fire you. Here, if you fail too much, they might kick you out, maybe, but it’s better to fail here and then go get a snack at Norris.”

Marshall’s memoir, “Wake Me When It’s Funny,” co-written with his daughter Lori (BSJ86, MSJ88) and published in 1995, recounted his first 35 years in Hollywood. He wrote an additional memoir, “My Happy Days in Hollywood,” in 2012.

David Tolchinsky, a professor and chair of the radio/television/film department at Northwestern, spoke to Marshall during his recent visit to campus.

“I’m so sad to hear of Garry Marshall's death and so glad I had the chance to hear him tell his funny stories (about everything and anything), speak with him at dinner and toast him when he was at Northwestern University recently,” Tolchinsky said. “I talked about how much a comforting part of our childhood his shows were for me and my siblings. In the 70s, Norman Lear challenged us. But Garry Marshall offered us silly escapist fun. Hopefully he's laughing somewhere with Robin Williams, whom he had great stories to tell about. I felt like you could mention any person, place or object, and he'd have a hilarious (and wise) story to tell about it. I hope I'm having as much fun when I'm his age.”

Since leaving Northwestern, Marshall continued to stay in close contact with his alma mater, even including references to it in many films. He did so most recently in his movie “Mother’s Day,” a romantic comedy that he promoted during his May 10 visit. A major theme throughout that moderated discussion was Marshall’s lighthearted approach to filmmaking.   

“I make films that I think celebrate the human spirit, and I’ll continue to do that,” Marshall said at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. “I know they say it’s over, that there’s going to be no more rom-coms, and yet, we’re still making them. In cave man days, they used to say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Murray’s cave. He’ll tell us a funny story.’ It’s still the same today. It’s about the story.”

When asked about his focus on women, both in film and in television, Marshall said he never thought about not including women.

“I have daughters, sisters and a granddaughter now who’s a sophomore at Northwestern,” he said. “Females are a part of our world.”

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; their three children, Lori, Kathleen and Scott; their five grandchildren, Charlotte, Lily, Sam, Ethan and Emma; and his two sisters, Penny and Ronny 

His publicist said while Marshall’s funeral services will be private, a memorial is being planned for his birthday Nov. 13.

In lieu of flowers, Marshall’s family is requesting donations be made in the name of Garry Marshall to the Saban Community Clinic, the Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank and the Northwestern University Undergraduate Scholarship Fund.

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