Ron Leavitt, a veteran television writer and producer best known for co-creating "Married ... With Children," the raunchy, groundbreaking sitcom that helped put the fledgling FOX network on the map in the late 1980s, has died. He was 60.
Leavitt died of lung cancer Sunday at his home in Sherman Oaks, said publicist Larry Winokur.
Ed O'Neill, who played Al Bundy on the show, said Monday that Leavitt was "one of the funniest guys I ever knew."
"He had a very original way of thinking in terms of comedy," O'Neill said. "He was a brilliant comedic writer."
David Duclon, one of Leavitt's former writing and producing partners, agreed.
"We lost a tremendous talent," Duclon said. "He had a very unique and sardonic view of the world that he was able to translate into his writing, and yet, personally, he was one of the sweetest, gentlest, kindest men I've ever known."
"The Cosby Show," Bill Cosby's feel-good family sitcom on NBC, was TV's top-rated show when "Married ... With Children" debuted on Fox in April 1987. Leavitt and co-creator Michael G. Moye called the new series "the anti-Cosby."
Indeed, no TV family was like the dysfunctional Bundys: chauvinistic women's shoe salesman Al and his lascivious, anti-homemaker wife, Peggy (Katey Sagal), with whom he traded crude insults and sexual innuendoes.
And then there were the children: Kelly ( Christina Applegate), the Bundys' promiscuous, dumb-blond daughter; and Bud (David Faustino), their conniving, girl-crazy son, who was named after his father's favorite beer.
"People love the naughtiness -- that here was a guy, Al Bundy, who said the things about his life, about his wife, that we all sometimes think but can never say out loud," Leavitt told the Los Angeles Times in 1997 as "Married" neared the end of its 11-season run.
Leavitt said the show was his and Moye's "adolescent rebellion against all those shows where everyone sat together at the dinner table and got along and talked and hugged and solved the world's problems in 22 minutes. I would go nuts seeing that. That wasn't my memory of what it was like to eat with my family."
Leavitt believed the show became "a guilty pleasure" for its audience, "something that they knew was always going to be nothing but funny."
Not everyone thought it was funny.
Early on, Jesse Helms, the former longtime Republican senator from North Carolina, called the show "trash." And Terry Rakolta, a Michigan housewife concerned with the series' racy content, launched a high-profile campaign to pressure advertisers to boycott the show.
A few reportedly pulled their commercials, but the show's ratings continued to rise.
O'Neill said "Married ... With Children" kept "FOX in the black for five or six years." He said the show was the only one getting high ratings, which he credited to Leavitt and Moye.
O'Neill said Leavitt "never got the due that he should have, in my opinion. I heard Jackie Gleason say one time -- he was asked, 'Why was "The Honeymooners" so popular?' -- and he said, 'Because it was so funny.' I think that can be said for us. Whether or not the humor was lowbrow or not to your liking, it was still funny."
When "Married ... With Children" ended in 1997, no one was more surprised by its longevity than Leavitt.
"If you would have told me the show would last for 11 seasons, if you would have told me that FOX would actually succeed, I would have said, 'OK, and my third wish is that beer and French fries don't make you fat,' " he told the Times.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 7, 1947, Leavitt graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in journalism. He worked as a reporter in the Miami area before launching his TV career as a writer on the 1977 sitcom "Busting Loose," starring Adam Arkin.
"Ron came on as a staff writer and immediately impressed everybody with his talent and ability," said Duclon, a producer on the show. "He rose through the ranks, and we decided to hook up as writing partners."
They worked a season as supervising producers on "Laverne & Shirley" before joining "The Jeffersons" as co-executive producers; a season later, they took over as executive producers and show runners through 1982.
Leavitt, Duclon and Moye, another producer on "The Jeffersons," then developed the 1982-86 sitcom "Silver Spoons."
"One of the wonderful things about Ron was he was a great showrunner," Duclon said. "People who worked on a Ron Leavitt show -- the cast and the crew -- felt like he was dad: He was the father of this family ... and he was not afraid to fight for his point of view. ... I believe that all of the really great shows -- 'All in the Family,' ' Mary Tyler Moore,' 'Taxi,' 'Cheers' -- have all been true to the vision of their creators. And that's what Ron did."
Leavitt also co-created "Top of the Heap," a 1991 "Married ... With Children" spinoff series starring Joseph Bologna and Matt LeBlanc; and he created "Vinnie & Bobby," a 1992 spinoff of the previous series, starring LeBlanc and Robert Torti.
Leavitt also created "Unhappily Ever After," a sitcom that ran on The WB from 1995-99.
'Married ... With Children' Co-Creator Dies
Ron Leavitt, 60, also worked on 'Jeffersons,' 'Silver Spoons'
'Married ... With Children'