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Hollywood has united in mourning the loss of Tom Sherak, the popular studio head who died Tuesday at 68.
Sherak, who had a long career at 20th Century Fox and then Revolution Studios before serving three consecutive one-year terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences through August 2012, succumbed to a long battle with prostate cancer while surrounded by his family at their home in Calabasas, Calif.
The charismatic and charitable studio marketing and distribution executive, who recently took the Academy through some tumultuous times, was remembered fondly by his peers, who reached out to express their sympathy and share fond memories.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, George Lucas shared his thoughts about the sad news, saying, “Tom’s passion for everything he did made him an inspiration to work with. His boundless enthusiasm for Star Wars earned him an honorary Jedi master title. He was unique in the industry and will be missed.”
James Cameron, who worked closely with Sherak, had equally as fond words for his former colleague. “Tom was a mentor to me and a good friend for almost three decades. He embodied the heart and soul of movies — entertainment and showmanship — timeless values in our business.
“There was always a sparkle in his eye when it was time to release a film, and you knew that it was going to be a grand adventure playing out on a global stage. I will miss his spirit, his sense of fun, his love of cinema — but most of all, his friendship,” pledged the Avatar producer.
Producer Jon Landau also shared his thoughts, telling THR: “There was no one that I respected more than Tom, not just as a businessman but as a person, and how he conducted his life should be an inspiration for us all.”
He went on to recall a favorite memory from when he was a Fox exec, saying: “When Fox was working to get the rights to the next trilogy of Star Wars movies, Tom actually did a spoof with me that we called ‘Episode Seven, the Distribution Wars.’
“He played Luke Skywalker. It was his way of showing George and everyone at Lucasfilm how much it meant. We made a five-minute short. There was a voice like Obi-Wan Kenobi and it said, ‘Tom, do you think you’re going to be able to do this? He said, ‘It’ll be as easy as opening Home Alone. That was showmanship,” said Landau.
Senator Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., released a statement praising Sherak.
“The film industry has lost one of its greatest advocates this evening with the passing of Tom Sherak. Tom was a true Hollywood veteran, having started his career at Paramount Pictures in 1970 and heading the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as president for three terms,” said Dodd.
“He dedicated his life to the movies, helping to share some of our greatest stories with the world. Tom’s loss will be felt by the entire entertainment industry, and I send my thoughts and prayers to his family at this difficult time.”
Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, called Sherak a “true champion of our industry, from his days as a studio executive through his Academy tenure and beyond. My family and I are deeply saddened at his passing and will miss both his professional dedication and, more importantly, his friendship. Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom’s family today.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was among those who respected Sherak, and last September he named him Los Angeles film czar to boost film and TV production in the city.
“I am devastated to learn of the passing of my close friend and advisor Tom Sherak. Tom was a true Hollywood original, moving up the ladder to promote blockbusters, running the Oscars and having a bulging Rolodex filled with not just A-list contacts, but so many close friends who were smitten by his humor, drive, and spirit,” said Garcetti.
“In just a few short months, Tom laid a policy foundation that my administration will stand on for the next four years. Tom’s work will continue through my office and the many charities to which he devoted so much of himself. Tom was a public servant in the truest sense long before he joined my administration. He will be deeply missed.”
The Academy expressed its respect in an official statement, with president Cheryl Boone Isaacs saying, “In the more than 30 years I’ve known Tom, his passionate support of and excitement about the motion picture business, the Academy, his family and friends never wavered. He was truly larger than life, and he will be missed.”
Academy CEO Dawn Hudson added: “He was my mentor and my friend. I learned from him, I laughed with him, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the time we shared together. He had a huge influence on the direction of our Academy and on me personally. I will miss laughing with him most of all.”
In a statement to THR, 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch said: “Tom was a great contributor to the growth of Fox as well as a close personal friend.”
Hawk Koch, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and current president of the Producers Guild of America, complimented Sherak on his energy and vitality.
“Tom was an incredible man who had a zeal for life unlike anyone I’ve ever known. He was a real advocate for our industry and his sheer determination to move the Academy forward was paramount and has had a profound effect on all of us. I’m deeply saddened by this news and my heart goes out to [his wife] Madeleine and his entire family,” said Koch.
Said Bill Mechanic, who headed Fox Filmed Entertainment when Sherak was with the company: “Tom was a very good executive but a better man. In the selfish world of Hollywood, he existed to help others. Whether it was raising money for MS or leading the Academy, he always tried to do the right thing. If the idea is to leave the world a better place for having been there, then he now rests in the pantheon of human beings.”
Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO 20th Century Fox Film, described the industry icon as a “beloved friend and colleague and a part of the Fox family for decades. He was integral to the life and vitality of this studio during his time with us, and he left an indelible mark here. As his friend, I will always remember his big smile, and he made you happy just to be around him.
“We are incredibly saddened by his passing but know that his personal and professional legacy will remain with us forever. All of us at Fox send our heartfelt condolences to Madeleine and their children and grandchildren. He will be missed but never forgotten.”
Sherak’s family thanked the film industry for the love and kind thoughts, with his daughter Barbara describing her relationship with her father on Facebook (along with the photo below) as “a true love story. My daddy got his star today delivered by messenger to the house. They’re putting it in the sidewalk at this very moment and we are so very proud. He knows he won’t be there to see the real one in person, but deep down we hope he knows it came.”
Skydance CEO David Ellison, whom Sherak had advised, said: “It is with a broken heart that I say goodbye to my friend and mentor, Tom Sherak. Tom was an inspiration to me and everyone he touched, and the world will forever shine brighter because of his love and influence. He was a man who led by example. Tom was a patron of cinema, an inspirational philanthropist, but most importantly he was a friend, husband and father at heart. My thoughts and prayers are with Madeleine and his family at this time.”
Sherak is survived by his wife of more than 45 years, Madeleine, daughters Melissa and Barbara, and son William.
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