When Sam Simon, co-creator of The Simpsons, passed away Tuesday at his Los Angeles home, social media lit up with an outpouring of support and tributes from entertainment execs and animal rights activists alike. Both groups had suffered a great loss.
After he was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer in 2012, Simon turned to philanthropy, dedicating his time, energy, and fortune to championing animal rights.
Using the millions he earned from Simpsons royalties, Simon made a number of high-profile animal rescues, including 17 bears confined to concrete pits, chimps kept in solitary confinement, and even an Indian elephant, shackled and abused for years.
Perhaps the most unlikely rescue of all, however, took place just months before he died.
In August 2014, Simon joined forces with PETA to rescue more than 400 chinchillas from electrocution by one of the largest California chinchilla farms. The farm described itself as a breeding facility, though the owner admitted the chinchillas were also being killed for their fur if one of the animals “didn’t work out good.” The owner was having trouble finding a buyer for the business and planned on killing all the chinchillas and selling their pelts to turn a profit.
Although anti-fur groups have long protested chinchilla skinning for fashion, showing up as recently as last month at New York Fashion Week to shame show-goers draped in the animal, the furry creature was still found on the backs of celebrities like Mary J. Blige and in some designers’ collections.
Chinchillas might not get the same media attention as dogs or dolphins when it comes to unethical treatment, but that didn’t stop Simon from taking notice. And he didn’t just write a big check; he wanted to be present the day of the rescue mission, bringing a little humor with him.
“It takes a big number of them to make a blanket for Kim Kardashian’s ass,” he joked, arriving at the facility.
Accompanied by PETA employees, Simon found the chinchillas locked up in small steel cages lined up in a barn. The owner admitted to killing the animals with toe-to-ear electrocution, lasting for an unnecessary and excruciating three minutes.
“When people say I’m trying to buy my way into heaven…if you could, I would, but I don’t remotely believe in that and that has nothing to do with what I’m doing,” he told Fusion. “I do it because it makes me feel good and makes me happy.”
Tune in to Fusion this Sunday, March 15, at 8pm to watch Rebel with a Cause: The Sam Simon Story, for an exclusive look at how Simon fought to save the lives of animals, while holding on to his own.