Don Payne, Writer For ‘Thor’ and ‘The Simpsons,’ Dies

Mark Deming
Movie Talk
Don Payne
Don Payne

Don Payne, a writer and producer who penned the screenplays for "Thor," "Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer," and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," and was part of the creative team for "The Simpsons," has died. Cause of death is unknown at this time, pending a statement from Payne's family, but he was reportedly battling cancer. He leaves behind two sons and a daughter.

Payne won four Primetime Emmys for his work on “The Simpsons,” but made his mark on movies with his screenplays for superhero movies. A self-proclaimed "comic book geek from way back," Payne combined his love of comedy and superheroes in his first produced screenplay, 2006's "My Super Ex-Girlfriend." That film led Payne to work on two projects spun off from the Marvel Comics universe, 2007's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," and 2011's "Thor." Payne also was a writer on the upcoming sequel "Thor: The Dark World," and was helping to adapt James Patterson's novel "Maximum Ride" for the screen.

Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, Payne graduated high school in 1982 and studied screenwriting at UCLA. After receiving his masters' degree, he began collaborating with his friend John Frink, looking for a break writing for TV or movies. In the mid-1990s, they began writing for a handful of short-lived sit-coms, including "Hope And Gloria," "Can't Hurry Love," and "The Brian Benben Show," but it was the cancellation of one of their shows that led to their big break.

"On the day a show is officially cancelled, it's kind of a tradition for the writing staff to go out to a restaurant, eat a nice meal, and drown their sorrows," Payne said in a 2006 interview. "On the way there, a writer named Jace Richdale (who had also worked on 'The Simpsons') told my partner and me that 'The Simpsons' was looking for some writers. He wanted to know if we'd be interested in it, because he would recommend us. My jaw literally dropped. So he contacted the show-runner, a guy named Mike Scully, who read our spec script and met with us, then hired us on. It was a life-changing event."

Payne would help write sixteen episodes of "The Simpsons" and became a producer for the show, working on a hundred episodes between 2000 and 2013. In time, Payne and Frink (whose name was the inspiration for Springfield’s Jerry Lewis-like mad scientist, Professor Frink) stopped working together and Payne devoted more of his energies to screenwriting. Payne was inducted to his hometown’s Wilmington Walk of Fame in 2005, which inspired an episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer hopes to achieve a similar honor.

Word of Payne's death broke when "Simpsons" showrunner Mike Scully posted a picture of Payne's parking space on Twitter:

Actresses Jamie Alexander and Kat Dennings, who both appeared in "Thor," also posted Twitter messages about Payne.

Payne's final film, "Thor: The Dark World," will open on November 8.

Watch a clip from 'Thor':