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Obituaries

Matty Simmons, co-founder of National Lampoon and ‘Animal House’ producer, dies

Matty Simmons, a founder of National Lampoon magazine, died Wednesday. He was 93.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Matty Simmons, who produced the 1978 comedy “Animal House” and the popular series of “Vacation” movies, and co-founded National Lampoon magazine, has died at his home in Los Angeles.

Simmons died Wednesday of natural causes, according to his daughter Kate Simmons, who announced her father’s death on Instagram. He was 93.

“Yesterday I lost my hero,” she wrote on social media. “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.”

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Before launching a successful, high-profile career in entertainment, Simmons was executive vice president of Diners Club, the first credit card company. During that time, in the late 1950s, he hired blacklisted Hollywood writers to contribute to Signature, the club’s magazine, said his son Michael Simmons.

In 1967, he founded Twenty First Century Publishing with Len Mogel to publish the counterculture magazine Cheetah, which bombed. They went on to publish, with considerable more success, Weight Watchers magazine.

But Simmons is perhaps best known for co-founding the goofy humor magazine National Lampoon in 1970, and served as chairman. In its heyday, it attracted the country’s brightest and best comedy writers.

At the height of the magazine’s success, the Lampoon staff undertook other projects, turning the conglomerate into a producer of radio, stage shows, record albums and movies.

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Simmons produced some of the company’s biggest film successes, including “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” starring John Belushi, and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” both starring Chevy Chase.

In 1989, Simmons resigned as an officer and director of National Lampoon Inc. The magazine had been losing readers since 1982. He went on to establish a career as independent producer.

There would “be no #Vacation, #AnimalHouse nor #NationalLampoon w/o crazy, wonderful, visionary Matty Simmons,” the National Lampoon tweeted Friday. “Passing, 50yrs exactly from our birth, feels is his last great punchline. #RestInPeaceMatty.”

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Simmons’ extensive producing credits include “Movie Madness” and “Class Reunion” in 1982, the 1984 TV series “Hot Flashes,” and “National Lampoon’s Pucked” in 2006, for which he also the screenplay.

Matty Simmons was born Oct. 3, 1926, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of a sign painter. An older brother, Don, died in 1964 at age 42.

Simmons graduated from Textile High School before attending City College of New York, but dropped out after two months. “He was in writing class and disagreed with his teacher, so he quit,” said his son Michael.

He married three times. His most recent wife, Patti Browne, died in 2017.

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In 2013, Simmons conceived and produced the stage comedy “Sketches from the National Lampoon” at the Hayworth Theatre in Los Angeles. The show consisted of a series of favorite sketches, monologues and musical numbers from the company vault.

Simmons was also a published author, having written several books, including “Fat, Drunk, and Stupid: The Making of Animal House” and “If You Don’t Buy This Book, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

"[He] could finish a novel faster than I’ll probably finish this post,” said daughter Kate wrote on Instagram.

Simmons was also a onetime newspaper reporter for the New York World-Telegram and Sun and worked in public relations with his brother.

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“He was gregarious, hardworking and loved his children,” Michael said of his father, and he was the master of ad libs. “He was bigger than life... He was very witty and sharp, and he didn’t lose that until the very end.”

Simmons is survived by four children, Michael, Julie, Andrew and Kate; four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


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