Gareth Wigan dies at 78

Studio exec helped guide "Star Wars," "Chariots of Fire"

 
Gareth Wigan, widely considered a rare gentleman among studio executives, died at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by his family on Saturday morning after a brief illness. He was 78.

During the course of his career, the London-born Wigan, lean and courtly, was involved with such movies as "Star Wars," "All that Jazz," "Chariots of Fire" and "Sense and Sensibility," while working at Fox, the Ladd Company and Sony, where most recently he oversaw local-language productions, such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" for the studio.

"Gareth was an inspirational and passionate leader. His love of movies and filmmakers was as rare and unique as the brilliant films he championed over the last four decades," Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures co-chairman said. "He led by example and while he can never be replicated, his influence on our company and our industry will last forever."

Born December 2, 1931, after graduating from Oxord, Wigan began his career in the late '50s as an agent in the U.K. office of MCA, representing directors like John Schlesinger and Richard Lester as well as British rock pioneer Ronnie Harwood. In the mid-'60s, he formed his own talent agency Gregson & Wigan with business partner Richard Gregson, taking on writers, musicians and producers and opening offices in Los Angeles and New York.

After selling the agency to EMI in 1970, Wigan produced his first film, the thriller "Unman, Wittering and Zigo," directed by John McKenzie. And by the mid-1970s, he moved to Los Angeles, where a studio exec at Fox, where he helped shepherd "Star Wars."

"I'll never forget the first time he saw 'Star Wars,' " its creator George Lucas said. "Gareth was so moved that he cried. As a young filmmaker facing a lot of skeptics, his genuine love of the film meant the world to me. He was there for me when I needed him and I'll always be grateful."

At Fox, Wigan was part of the exec team that oversaw such films as "All that Jazz," "Breaking Away," "Silver Streak," "The Turning Point," "An Unmarried Woman" and "Alien."

In 1979, Wigan joined fellow Fox executives Alan Ladd Jr. and Jay Kanter to form the Ladd Company, a subsidiary of Warner Communications. The Ladd Company was responsible for such films as the Oscar-winning "Chariots of Fire," "The Right Stuff" and the successful "Police Academy" comedy franchise.

Striking out on his own, Wigan briefly formed an independent production company with Paula Weinstein before joining Sony's Columbia Pictures as a production consultant in 1987. Ten years later, he was named  co-vice chairman of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, sharing responsibility for all production activities at the studio with Lucy Fisher.

During that period, he worked on such films as "Air Force One," "Stuart Little," "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Girl Interrupted," "The Prince of Tides," "Sense and Sensibility," "The Age of Innocence" and "Postcards from the Edge."

Barbra Streisand, who directed and starred in "Tides," remembered Wigan as "one of the smartest, kindest, most loving people I have ever known."

During the last decade, Wigan turned his attention to local-language productions around the globe. He had a hand in more than 40 films, in nine different languages, from more than 12 countries.  They included "Crouching Tiger," "Kung Fu Hustle," "Not One Less," "The Road Home," "Snatch" and "Layer Cake."

"Tiger's" Ang Lee commented, "Gareth Wigan was a unique figure in the movie business. He was a true English gentleman, a great soul. He made quality films, and he was also a pioneer of studio investment in foreign films."
 
In 2008, Wigan stepped back from day-to-day operations co-running the Sony Pictures International Motion Pictures Production Group, but he continued to serve as a strategic advisor to SPE's international film business.

He was a member of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 

He is survived by his wife, Pat Newcomb, his children Tracy John, Amanda Berris, Caroline Buhl, Jonathon Wigan, and grandchildren, Aminah Ahmad, Faroukh Ahmad, Autumn Buhl, Gareth Buhl, Gemma Wigan, and Skyler and Tessa Wigan.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a future date. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations may be made to Youth News Service at www.layouth.com.
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