Obituary: Gary David Goldberg / 'Family Ties' creator with rebellious flower child sensibility

June 25, 1944 - June 22, 2013


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Gary David Goldberg, a writer and producer who created warmhearted television shows, most notably "Family Ties," a leading comedy of the 1980s that propelled Michael J. Fox to stardom, died last Saturday at his home in Montecito, Calif. He was 68.

The cause was brain cancer, said his daughter Shana Silveri.

Mr. Goldberg came to writing relatively late, after a peripatetic young adulthood in the 1960s and early '70s that involved dropping out of colleges, waiting on tables in Greenwich Village, hitchhiking around the world with the girlfriend who would become his wife and starting a day care center with her in Northern California.

The rebellious flower child sensibility that informed these adventures was the spur for "Family Ties," which captured the culture clash between parents of the hippie generation and children growing up during the Reagan administration.

The show, broadcast on NBC from 1982 to 1989, was set in a suburban neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, and focused on the Keatons: Steven and Elyse (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter Birney) and their children Alex (Mr. Fox), a bright, earnest young Republican with a hunger for wealth; the fashion-obsessed Mallory (Justine Bateman); and Jennifer (Tina Yothers), the intellectually precocious little sister. (In later seasons, after Ms. Baxter Birney's pregnancy was incorporated into the show, the family added a fourth child, Andrew, played by Brian Bonsall.)

Originally meant to focus on the parents, whom Mr. Goldberg acknowledged were based on him and his wife, the show became a vehicle for Mr. Fox, who was 21 when the show started. He soon earned the central role in the hit 1985 film "Back to the Future."

Mr. Fox was not the first choice for the "Family Ties" role -- Matthew Broderick was -- and even after his audition Mr. Goldberg did not want him for the part. It was only after the casting director, Judith Weiner, pestered Mr. Goldberg to see Mr. Fox again that the match was made.

"From that point on he was a tireless defender of me," Mr. Fox said in a recent interview.

Born in New York City on June 25, 1944, he was known as Gary Goldberg as a boy. He began using his middle name, David, as a professional affectation.

His father, George, was a postal worker and his mother, Anne, a bookkeeper for her father's hat company.

He graduated from San Diego State University in 1975.

In 1969, Mr. Goldberg was a waiter at the Village Gate in Manhattan when he met Diana Meehan, a flight attendant, and the two eventually spent 14 months traveling, mostly penniless, around the world, accompanied by their dog, Ubu, for whom Mr. Goldberg later named his production company. When they returned they started the day care center, in Berkeley.

After two years they moved to Southern California, where, at San Diego State, a writing teacher helped Mr. Goldberg get jobs in television. He wrote comedy for "The Bob Newhart Show" and became a producer of the newspaper drama "Lou Grant," starring Ed Asner, and "The Tony Randall Show," a comedy in which Randall played a widowed judge.

Mr. Goldberg created other shows after "Family Ties," most notably "Brooklyn Bridge," a homage to his childhood in the borough of Brooklyn -- Marion Ross played the grandmother character -- that lasted two seasons in the early 1990s; and "Spin City," created with Bill Lawrence, which reunited him with Mr. Fox, who played the chief of staff to a dim-witted mayor of New York. It lasted six seasons, 1996 to 2002, the last of which featured Charlie Sheen in place of Mr. Fox.

Mr. Goldberg also produced the feature films "Dad" (1989), about a father-son reconciliation that starred Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson; "Bye Bye Love" (1995) with Paul Reiser, Matthew Modine and Randy Quaid as divorced men; and "Must Love Dogs" (2005), a romantic comedy with Diane Lane and John Cusack.

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