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Garry Shandling, US comedian and actor, dies aged 66

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Media captionPeter Bowes: "He was very beloved and was seen as a ground-breaking character"

US actor Garry Shandling who influenced a generation of comedians with his Emmy nominated TV series It's Garry Shandling's Show has died, aged 66.

Los Angeles police told the BBC that Shandling "suffered a medical emergency" on Thursday.

Shandling was known for "breaking the fourth wall" - speaking directly to the audience - in his show, which aired from 1986 to 1990.

He starred in the Emmy award winning Larry Sanders Show from 1992 to 1998.

His self-aware brand of comedy, which relentlessly mocked the artificial nature of show business, is credited with influencing other hit shows like Tina Fey's 30 Rock and Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Shandling was born in Chicago in 1949 and grew up in Tucson, Arizona before moving to Los Angeles in the early 1970s.

He got his start in Hollywood as a sitcom writer for shows such as Sanford and Son and Welcome Back, Kotter.

A popular stand-up comedian, Shandling often appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson during the 1980s.

He was in the running to replace Carson when the chat show host retired in 1992. The job eventually went to Jay Leno.

Image caption Shandling's Larry Sanders Show was a spoof of late night chat shows

Fellow comedians Amy Schumer and Ricky Gervais are among the many who have been paying tribute to Shandling.

"Goodbye Gary Shandling thank you for your kindness and your generosity and for making me laugh so damn much," said Schumer.

Gervais wrote: "RIP the great Garry Shandling. Surely, one of the most influential comedians of a generation."

Actor and Saturday Night Live veteran Rob Schneider posted: "We all owe you, Gary Shandling."

'Masterful writer'

A high point of Shandling's career was as Larry Sanders, the host of a fictional talk show which aired from 1992 to 1998.

Celebrities frequently appeared on the programme and were playfully mocked by the character.

"It's an extremely delicate process because no one wants to be made fun of," Shandling told The LA Times in 1995.

"I do not think this is a mean-spirited show in any way. There's a level of satire in which, if one gets it, then they're willing to play with that. This show allows an opportunity for some people to play themselves in a way that they haven't been able to do before."

The show saw Shandling directly address the audience in a technique known as breaking the "fourth wall".

The comedian also did not use a laugh track in the series - something that was seen as controversial at the time but has since become commonplace on sitcoms such as The Office, 30 Rock and Modern Family.

Shandling was a frequent awards show host - emceeing both the Grammy and Emmy awards for several years.

Actor Steve Martin wrote on Thursday that when he hosted the Academy Awards, Shandling would offer suggestions.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Peter Tolan (left) and Shandling won an Emmy award in 1998 for outstanding writing for a comedy series for The Larry Sanders Show

Shandling most recently starred as a villainous senator in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Conan O'Brien paid tribute to Shandling on his talk show on Thursday evening.

"He was a masterful writer, a performer who went on to create incredibly groundbreaking comedy shows that inspired an entire generation of comedians, myself included," O'Brien said.

"He was also extremely sensitive and he really did care about other people. That is something in the comedy business that is incredibly rare."

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