Matty Simmons, a founder of the Diners Club credit card and Weight Watchers magazine who found his highest-profile success after co-founding National Lampoon magazine and producing film offshoots including Animal House and the Vacation franchise, died Wednesday in Los Angeles following a brief, non-coronavirus-related illness. He was 93.
Simmons’ death was announced by his daughter Kate Simmons.
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“Yesterday I lost my hero,” Kate Simmons wrote on Instagram. “My dad had gone from the sharpest, healthiest 93 year old most people have encountered to abruptly having every imaginable issue except corona.”
A statement tweeted by National Lampoon reads, “The comic geniuses everyone knows deserve much credit for our legacy. BUT, there’d be no #Vacation, #AnimalHouse nor #NationalLampoon w/o crazy, wonderful, visionary Matty Simmons.” Dying exactly 50 years after the founding of the Lampoon, the company said, feels like Simmons’ “last great punchline.”
An author of nine books including the 2012 memoir Fat, Drunk, and Stupid: The Making of Animal House (St. Martins Press), Simmons made a remarkable and still-felt impact on the world of comedy, first through the Lampoon magazine, its seminal stage show Lemmings and The National Lampoon Radio Hour – projects that would introduce a generation of comedy icons to the world like Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Michael O’Donoghue, Christopher Guest and Richard Belzer.
As a producer of the Lampoon movies Animal House (1978) and Vacation (1983), Simmons expanded his reach and influence to the big screen, making full-fledged movie stars of Belushi and Chase.
After leaving Diners Club (he’d later denounce the industry and the mountains of debt it created), Simmons in the late 1960s founded 21st Century Communications, which would soon find financial success as the publisher of Weight Watchers Magazine. In 1970, the company began publishing the National Lampoon, a nationwide spinoff of the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine. In 1972, Simmons and the Lampoon produced Lemmings, their first, and most influential, of four stage shows that would also include The National Lampoon Show, That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick, and The Class of ’86.
Lemmings also became one of the Lampoon’s string of successful comedy record albums, and a major influence on the NBC sketch comedy Saturday Night Live, with regard to both style and cast.
On the success of those project, Simmons, along with Ivan Reitman, produced 1978’s massively popular frat-house comedy Animal House, directed by John Landis and starring Belushi, Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Tim Matheson and Peter Riegert, among others. Simmons then produced the considerably less successful TV spinoff Delta House in 1979, returning to the top of his game with 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, starring Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron and Randy Quaid.
Vacation would prove more sequel-friendly than Animal House, with 1985’s European Vacation, 1989’s Christmas Vacation, and the 2003 TV-movie Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure. Simmons reportedly sold his controlling interest in the National Lampoon in 1989.
Simmons’ other books include 1995’s If You Don’t Buy This Book, We’ll Kill This Dog, its title referencing a famous Lampoon magazine cover, and 1996’s The Credit Card Catastophe.
Simmons appeared in Douglas Tirola’s 2015 Lampoon documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. He was portrayed by Veep’s Matt Walsh in the 2018 Douglas Kenney biopic A Futile and Stupid Gesture.
Here is the full Instagram statement from his daughter:
Yesterday I lost my hero. My dad had gone from the sharpest, healthiest 93 year old most people have encountered to abruptly having every imaginable issue except corona. What he did in a lifetime was legendary. A founder of the National Lampoon and the Diners Club Card. Producer of Animal House and the Vacation series. He wrote like nine books and could finish a novel faster than I’ll probably finish this post. When we lost my mom a couple years ago it felt like a part of us both died. He told me early on, were a team now and we have to stick together. We did just that and became inseparably close. He became my best friend in the world. I truly don’t know how I’m going to be without him. He always told me “you’re Kate Bradley Simmons and you can do anything” so I’ll follow his words and try my best. It’s really wild. My mom left this world during a horrific stage four hurricane and now my dad during a world pandemic. What a profound testament to what powerful people they were. Alas, they can finally be together again.
Immediate word on additional survivors was not available.
The comic geniuses everyone knows deserve much credit for our legacy.
— National Lampoon (@nationallampoon) May 1, 2020
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