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Bill Thompson, a longtime exhibition and distribution executive, died Sunday in Manhattan after a battle with Merkel cell carcinoma, his wife of 43 years, Sherrie Thompson, announced. He was 73.
Thompson worked mainly in distribution in the 1990s, with stints at Miramax, Gramercy, Lot 47 and then alongside indie film stalwart Bob Berney at four companies: Newmarket, Picturehouse, Apparition and FilmDistrict.
“Bill was always part of my core team at Newmarket, Picturehouse and FilmDistrict,” Picturehouse CEO Berney said in a statement. “He was devoted to the theatrical experience and the people in the business equally. I’m not alone in saying he was one of a kind, a real gentleman, and will be missed.”
Thompson also was senior vp distribution and exhibition at Cohen Media Group for seven years before retiring in 2020. He taught a class in film distribution at NYU’s School of Continuing Education for 17 years.
Born on Aug. 30, 1949, in Gowanda, New York, and raised in Cattaraugus, New York, Thompson graduated from American University in 1971. After starting with Twentieth Century Fox at its Washington branch, he came to New York in 1978 to work for Don Rugoff at Cinema 5 Distribution.
When booker Ralph Donnelly and RKO acquired Cinema 5 the following year, he switched to the film-buying side and remained there throughout the ’80s, working for the chains Walter Reade, Cineplex Odeon and City Cinemas.
Thompson received the Salah Hassanein Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens Humanitarian Award in 2011 and was inducted into the Showeast Hall of Fame in 2019.
He was a longtime member and past president of the New York-based Motion Picture Club — he received its Lifetime Achievement Award this year — and a member of the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers.
He supported charities including Variety Children’s Charity, Ronald McDonald House, Alzheimer’s Association and National Kidney Foundation.
In addition to his wife, survivors include his daughters, Samantha and Sarah; son-in-law Jonathan; and grandsons Eli and Nathan. A memorial is being planned. Donations in his name can be made to the Motion Picture Club.
“People always said that Bill was the nicest person in the film business, but I always thought that was too limiting,” said Richard Abramowitz, founder and CEO of the distribution and marketing firm Abramorama. “He was, simply put, the nicest person anywhere.”
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