Production Designer Donald Lee Harris, whose credits include a long run on ABC‘s Grey’s Anatomy, as well as working on The Office, American Housewife, Malcolm in the Middle, and other series, has died from cancer at the age of 78 on November 1.
This according to his family and his most recent agent Amanda Pecora-Sutphen, who posted the following tribute on her Instagram:
It’s with a very heavy heart that I share the news of an immense loss in the creative world. Production Designer, Husband, Father, Friend & BRILLIANT mind, Donald Lee Harris passed away yesterday surrounded by his loving family after his heroic battle with cancer came to a close.
I personally had the pleasure of working with Donald on my very first job in the film industry, “Grey’s Anatomy”. He rarely let anything ruffle his feathers & I not only admired his design, I was always struck by his calm & kind demeanor. He would simply say, “ok fine” when last minute changes would have had anyone want to rip their hair out.
Years later, I had the esteemed pleasure of working with Donald as his agent. I will never forget how it felt getting to work alongside someone I had so admired early in my career. He LOVED designing & his passion will undoubtedly live on through his work. From “Can’t Buy Me Love” to “Malcolm in the Middle” to “The Office” & “American Housewife” and everything in between, Donald’s design speaks not only to future generations of designers, but to those who worked alongside him. Even more, those who invited his work into their homes, while creating quality time with their families enjoying their favorite TV series or feature film. Those of us who come from the world of entertainment, often forget how these seemingly simple moments in time create a sense of cherished remembrance. As we age, we can often recall fond childhood memories, sitting amongst family in front of the television with a shared a bowl of popcorn. There is something universal about the moments where we allow ourselves to be swept away from daily stress & responsibilities, and into a world created for that stillness… a world in which our imaginations can run wild. While being a highly stressful career path that stretches far beyond Hollywood glam & red carpet attire, there aren’t many professions in which creating another world is the entire essence of the job description… Donald dedicated his life to doing just that. He created fabulous “worlds” for our enjoyment, while still raising a family & creating a beautiful home & life alongside his beautiful wife, best friend & soulmate, Laurie.
I was outside admiring an incredible sunset last evening when I heard the news… the weight of this immeasurable loss while unbearable, also made me take pause & give gratitude for those who cross our paths, making enormous impacts along the way. I realized in that moment, the sunset which was radiant with pink hues & moody blues would be the image I would hold in my heart & mind when honoring Donald’s memory. The infinite New Mexico skies, the ever-changing beauty, the vibrant palette, all part of the set we call “life”. When I asked Donald’s family if there was a picture I could share with this tribute, I received this perfect representation of the kind & thoughtful man I had the pleasure of calling “friend”. It beautifully captures his nature as well as his passage over the rainbow. Rest in Peace Dear Friend. ❤
Harris’ career began in the ’70s when he worked in the art department for the Donny & Marie variety series, before working as art director on films like Flesh Gordon and Swap Meet. His work in film continued through the ’80s, as well as getting early production design credits for Can’t Buy Me Love and World Gone Wild. That work continued through 1991, when he got his first series work on NBC‘s sci-drama, Eerie, Indiana, which in turn, led to ongoing series work throughout the ’00s, beginning with seven seasons of Malcolm in the Middle.
The original news of Harris’ death was reported by Deadline, who received a statement from Malcom in the Middle creator Linwood Boomer, saying, “Donald Lee Harris was one of the most creative, patient and diligent artists I’ve ever known. Two decades ago, he showed everyone in television how great single-camera comedies could look. Everyone who’s worked with him will miss him terribly.”
From there, Harris went onto production design the first six-episode season of NBC’s The Office, which then led to him joining Grey’s Anatomy for its third season in 2006, staying with that program until the Season 11 finale in 2015. After a few other projects, Harris joined Katy Mixon‘s American Housewife for its 2016 pilot and remained on the show for its entire run.
The show’s exec. producer and co-showrunner Kenny Schwartz (along with Rick Wiener) told Deadline: “Donald was an amazing production designer. Extremely talented and unflappable, and he was an amazing person. Kind, smart and funny. After the pilot of American Housewife, Donald said he was going to retire. Rick and I coaxed him into staying for its entire 5-year run. We would have been lost without him.”
Harris is survived by wife Laurie Harris, and two children, Travis and Vanessa with a memorial planned for Dec. 4.