This is by no means the first time we’ve uttered the name Sam Simon on Ecorazzi. Indeed, Simon makes headlines fairly frequently, and we’re as eager as any other outlet to spread the “good gossip” this successful-meets-selfless individual generates. And, let’s face it, with Simon, the well of good deeds he’s done, is doing and will do just doesn’t run dry.
This is, however, the first time we’ve had a chance to speak one-on-one with Simon, 58, discussing with him what makes him tick—and what ticks him off.
“The Simpsons” co-creator—also known professionally for show running “Taxi,” writing and producing for “Cheers” and directing “The Drew Carey Show,” among myriad other accomplishments—has not only made a name for himself in the entertainment industry, but also in the philanthropy arena. That’s what we’re most enthusiastic about, much as we’re fans of his award-winning Hollywood work.
In 2002, Simon launched the Sam Simon Foundation, which is self-funded and dedicated to rescuing dogs, who would otherwise be euthanized, and training them as service dogs (to help people with disabilities—primarily the deaf, but also Alzheimer’s patients and the elderly—as well as soldiers returning from combat suffering from PTSD). Additionally, the nonprofit offers spay and neuter services for low-income pet owners and complimentary operations for sick dogs and cats.
In 2011, Simon established the Feeding Families facet of his foundation, also self-funded, which provides free food to people and animals in need. Still more remarkable is the fact that 100% of the food is 100% vegan. (Simon himself has been vegan since 2005 and vegetarian since he was 19.)
Simon’s donated vast sums of money to organizations like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society—for the purpose of purchasing another vessel for their whaler-fighting fleet—and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)—who in 2013 named their headquarters in his honor.
In late 2012, Simon was diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer, which later metastasized in his other organs, including his liver and kidneys. He was given three to six months to live. Come July 2013, Simon was still kicking ass and taking names, disclosing in a Q&A with The Hollywood Reporter that it was (is) his intention to leave the majority of his fortune—which, thanks to royalties from a certain animated series, is well into the tens of millions—to animal rights organizations.
Since then, Simon’s spared no expense rescuing bears, horses and all manner of animals; traveling to Taiji to bear witness to the dolphin cull; funding a “Blackfish”-branded racecar; visiting Newfoundland, Canada with Pamela Anderson and a check made out for $1 million in an attempt to coerce sealers to curb the clubbing; and much more. He’s dropping serious dough to do good and effect change while he’s here, and he’s set up a trust for future do-gooding and change-making.
What follows is a portion of our exchange, spanning two phone conversations—he in California and we in New York—both brimming with laughter on both our ends. Simon proved nothing if not funny and fearless, inspirational and spirited, a man who’s lived a full life and who shows no signs of slowing.
Just over a year ago, you announced you had cancer, and that doctors had given you only months to live. But, you also said this next period of your life was going to be an adventure and you were focusing on the positive. What has this adventure been like? How have you been managing the cancer?
My cancer is stable. I’m in hospice care, but I’m doing well. Fortunately, one of the chemo drugs is pretty effective. I’m hoping it’s an adventure for the next five, ten years. I can’t wait for people to start turning on me and saying, Why haven’t you died yet?
Hush! So, I know you’re an avid vegan. Given your diagnosis, do you follow a whole foods plant-based diet?
Now I do! I do everything. I’m juicing; I’m on homeopathic medicine; I’m doing trampoline therapy; I’ve got a faith healer; I’ve got essiac tea; I’ve got everything going here, including traditional therapy. If I’m cured, I’m going to tell the doctors it was the crystals. [Laughs]
[Laughs] You openly talk about your use of medical marijuana. Has it made a big difference in the course of your treatment?
I never used marijuana. I tried it in high school. So, I went a good 40 years without touching the stuff. I have, I think, 35 different chemicals and medications by my bed that are supposed to help with the nausea and fatigue. I have to say, the only thing I’ve tried that works—and it was at the request of my doctor—was marijuana.
Bravo. Love it. Glad it’s proving useful. Time to legalize! So, you’re well known now as an animal advocate. What first got you into animals?
I was an animal lover my whole life. It wasn’t until I met Ingrid Newkirk [of PETA] in 2002 that I became an animal activist. She very successfully brainwashed me and I’m grateful for that. The world of animal rights is such a fast moving world; in just 12 years, I became someone that the entire country of Japan was afraid of. [Laughs]
You sound like Ric O’Barry! Speaking of Japan, you recently traveled to Taiji to bear witness to the dolphin slaughter. What can you tell me about that?
It’s very sad. You see things that are heartbreaking. The situation in Taiji is a disgrace to the country of Japan. Paul Watson [of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society] says that Japan will not abide by this International Court of Justice ruling. They are going to go out next year. It was a trip to a rogue nation that doesn’t share the values of the world.
In terms of dolphins and whales. I’ve often felt it’s pretty hypocritical of us to speak of “the shame of Japan” when we’re doing comparable things to animals here on factory farms and in laboratories.
Well, I agree with that. But, I don’t think that means we back off Japan.
Oh no. Of course not.
I think we fight it here, too. I agree with you. This idea that we’re number one? We’re far from it. In terms of animal rights, we’re far behind many countries that have evolved; that have abolished, for example, circuses and dolphinariums. [They have] no place anymore.
Amen. On the topic of dolphins and whales, this past weekend you went to the ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway to support racecar driver Leilani Munter, to whom you gave over $100,000 so that she could brand her ride with the Blackfish logo and aesthetic. Is it true this is because you lost a bet?
It’s true I lost a bet, but that’s because we were playing poker. She wanted to play poker with me and she won. She’s the most competitive person, as you can imagine. That had nothing to do with the $115,000 I [gave to her]. She was a guest on my radio show. She deserved a break. I’m doing this as much for Leilani as I’m doing it for Tilikum.
Your generosity knows no bounds. So, what is it about “Blackfish” for you? You’ve become completely impassioned.
Blackfish has become the name of the movement. The anti-captivity movement is now the Blackfish movement. I’m not even sure that we’re talking about the movie anymore when we say “Blackfish.”
True. It’s incredible and encouraging. Then there are people like you—though you seem almost singular, really—who pony up the funds and actually drive visible change.
I picked up a rich man’s hobby of buying zoos and circuses. I don’t think it’s conservation. It’s a little bit of an animal rights thing. Mainly it makes me happy and gives me something to look forward to.
You also rescue bears and just saved former racehorse Valediction, retiring him to a Virginia ranch where he can live out the rest of his life in peace. This is especially timely given the Kentucky Derby was this past weekend. Can you comment at all on PETA’s fairly recent undercover investigation?
They’re changing rules. That investigation has been groundbreaking. People were outraged. I think they didn’t understand or realize that this is a blood sport where racehorses die on a racetrack every day in the United States.
That’s stark. So, what is your advice for someone who wants to make a difference for animals independent of their financial means?
It’s too late for petitions. Get out and do something.
I always encourage people to go vegan. What was it that compelled you—after decades of being vegetarian—to eschew all animal products?
Originally my reason for being vegetarian was that I didn’t want animals to die just so I could eat. Then, thanks to PETA, I learned that the lives of dairy cows and the lives of egg-laying hens are far worse than those [of animals raised exclusively] for meat. People don’t have to look this up. They can take my word for it. If they knew the horrors of factory farming, they would think twice about using these products.
What do you say to people who push the notion of “family farms” or “humane” meat?
As of now, there’s no such thing as humane meat. There may be in vitro meat soon. That would be humane. That’s going to solve a lot of problems. But, the only farm with a red barn that has anything to do with your food is the one on the label. There’s no such thing.
It’s a pastoral fantasy. On the subject of fiction, are you responsible for Lisa Simpson being vegetarian?
I am partially responsible for Lisa’s political views, but I was not there where they did the episode where she’s a vegetarian. In the first episode they adopted a greyhound from a greyhound race!
That was you?!
Superb. Then there’s the episode featuring a zoo with a banner draped across the gate that reads, “See your animal friends in prison.” Apt. Have you written anything that you plan on only releasing posthumously?
No. I should. That’s a good idea. But, I would get other people in trouble, too. So, I’m not gonna do it.
They offered me a reality show. They want me to die on TV.
Oh, really? And?
I’m thinking about it. This guy is the head of a very big studio. I was not interested at all, but he gave a really compelling presentation. These guys are good. [It’s] a chance to shoot my mouth off on TV, make people boycott SeaWorld and Ringling Brothers.
That’s amazing. Is it hard to bring up animal issues in the industry?
That’s a really good question. I can act like a little bit of a pain in the ass, I’ll admit. If someone innocently pitches that a character’s favorite day is at SeaWorld, I will want to change that. As a director, I won’t work with animals, except for dogs. It’s sometimes startling to see how outdated the [general] attitude towards animals [is].
It’s definitely disheartening.
I don’t think that the people I work with have a very good understanding of what I do and what PETA does and what Sea Shepherd does.
PETA gets a bad rap.
They’re doing amazing work and making a huge difference and people get upset because they have naked models.
I think some people are upset because they’re rumored to euthanize allegedly healthy animals.
I’ve killed every one of my dogs. Every one of them. I put them down when they’re 16, 12. It’s the ethical thing to do. I don’t think you will meet anyone who loves their dogs more.
PETA has always announced numbers. They’re not killing adoptable animals. I used to get a picture of every dog they killed and the suffering and misery that these animals are released from…it’s something to be proud of. The fight for animal rights is a fight against big business. There’s going to be propaganda and people are going to grab onto things and try to disagree.
Front groups, too.
What, in your opinion, is the future for the animal rights movement?
Everything’s moving along very nicely. Some issues—like orcas in captivity—a lot of interest was suddenly sparked. And then there’s veganism. You hear about it every day. So, I think overall it’s a good time. I think there will be big changes coming. There are victories every week. That’s one reason I encourage people to give to animal causes—you’ll get results. The one thing that gives me a lot of concern is that we’re going backwards on fur. I blame Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé. I think they’re all fur hags and they’re bad role models.