The actress pays tribute to the legendary director of Pretty Woman, who died July 19
Credit: Ron Batzdorff

Garry Marshall is being remembered by those who knew him best – and loved him the most.

The director, who died on July 19 at age 81 of complications from pneumonia following a stroke, wasn’t just the creator of iconic TV shows such as Happy Days and Mork & Mindy and films like Beaches and The Princess Diaries. He was also responsible for launching the careers of many of Hollywood’s A-listers, including Julia Roberts, whom he cast in 1990’s Pretty Woman.

Now Roberts is speaking out about the loss and how Marshall forever holds a place in her heart.

“To know Garry Marshall was to love him,” Roberts tells PEOPLE exclusively. “And I was luckier than most to have loved him for my entire adult life and luckier still to have been loved by him because his love was unconditional, inexhaustible and magical.”

“The map of Garry’s career is long and illustrious. Innovative and simply amazing. I was 7 years old when Happy Days came on TV. Followed a couple of years later by Laverne & Shirley and then Mork & Mindy. I have said before that Garry Marshall raised me, and it is rather true.”

VIDEO: Celebrate Garry Marshall’s Most Iconic Movies and TV Shows

“For 10 years he made all who watched television laugh and learn and strive to be better, more open people. He taught us to be nice, that life could be simple and sweet and, most importantly, that friends and family were everything.”

“It is my great fortune that there were only a few short years between Happy Days going off the air and Garry Marshall walking into my life and changing it in so many ways,” Roberts continues. “His family was everything to him, and it showed in every piece of work he ever did.”

For more tributes to Garry Marshall, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

“Every romantic moment, every kiss he portrayed in the last 53 years was an ode to Barbara Marshall. Each kid that learned to catch a baseball or girl who had a crush on a boy were versions of and love letters to Lori, Kathy and Scotty,” she says, mentioning Marshall’s wife and children. “Anywhere he traveled and each story he told contained his love and devotion and gratitude for his family. He taught by example how work and family intertwine.”

“There is no way to put into words, brief or expounded, how I feel about Garry,” Roberts adds. “He held too big a place in my life and in my heart. He was a giant in every way.”

“I do believe, at a time when the world seems to suffer so deeply, we could all benefit from remembering Garry’s ideals and stories of kindness and honesty – how good we can be if we just try.”