Brad Grey, Former Head of Paramount Pictures, Dies at 59

Brad Grey  - Top Five New York Premiere -Getty-H 2017
Mike Pont/FilmMagic

"I was proud to call Brad a friend, and one I greatly admired. He left his mark on our industry and in our hearts," said his replacement, Jim Gianopulos.

Brad Grey, the former chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, died Sunday from cancer at his Holmby Hills home with his family by his side. He was 59. 

Grey stepped down at Paramount in February after leading the studio for 12 years. He arrived from Brillstein-Grey Management, the powerhouse talent management agency that he founded with the late Bernie Brillstein in 1984. 

While Grey left a mixed legacy behind at Paramount — during his tenure, the studio relied on such franchises as Transformers, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible and also saw the Al Gore climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth win an Oscar — as a manager, he left an even more indelible mark on the culture, playing a role in bringing such iconic TV series as The Larry Sanders Show, The Sopranos and Real Time With Bill Maher to cable television.

As executive producer of The Sopranos, he shared in two best drama series Emmys, and he also won four Peabody Awards.

Before taking on the Paramount job, Grey formed the Plan B production company with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, which began with a first-look deal at Warner Bros., where it produced Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Martin Scorsese's best picture Oscar-winner The Departed.

When Pitt and Aniston's marriage ended she left the partnership, and in 2005 Grey and Pitt moved Plan B to Paramount, which served as its home base until last month, when the production company signed a new deal with Megan Ellison's Annapurna.

Grey also brought Scorsese into his Paramount fold with an overall deal that resulted in such films as Shutter Island (2010), Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and last year's Silence.

Grey, however, also saw lots of valuable intellectual property leave Paramount. The studio bought Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks SKG in 2005 in a deal worth $1.6 billion, but tensions between Spielberg’s team and the Melrose Avenue studio resulted in the filmmaker cutting ties with Paramount and striking a distribution deal with Disney just three years later — although Paramount retained stakes in a number of properties, including the lucrative Transformers franchise.

Following Disney’s purchase of Marvel in 2009, Marvel ended a distribution deal with Paramount, under which the studio had earned an 8 percent distribution fee on movies like 2008’s Iron Man. And DreamWorks Animation, which had seen its movies distributed through Paramount since 2006, moved its distribution deal to Fox in 2013. (In 2016, DWA was sold to Universal, which will release its future films.)

Grey was pushed out at Paramount soon after Bob Bakish came on as the new CEO at parent Viacom, replacing Philippe Dauman. In March, Jim Gianopulos, the former longtime head of 20th Century Fox's movie studio, was hired to run Paramount.

"All of us at Paramount are deeply saddened by the news of Brad Grey's passing," Gianopulos said in a statement. "He was at the helm of the studio for over a decade and was responsible for so many of its most beloved films. … I was proud to call Brad a friend, and one I greatly admired. He will be missed by us all, and he left his mark on our industry and in our hearts."

In a memo to staff upon his departure, Grey said, "It has been my privilege to be part of Paramount's storied history, and I am grateful to Sumner Redstone for giving me this opportunity. Above all, I am indebted to all of you, the wonderful people here at Paramount. Your creativity, professionalism and integrity are second to none."

Said Redstone and his daughter, Viacom vice chair Shari Redstone, in a statement: "We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of our friend Brad Grey, whose tremendous kindness and talent inspired so many of us in the entertainment industry. His vision and leadership at Paramount Pictures brought iconic films and programs to audiences around the world. We are so grateful for Brad's friendship."

Born in the Bronx in 1957, Grey attended the State University of New York at Buffalo and graduated in 1979 after majoring in communications and business. He entered show business by serving as an intern to Buffalo alum Harvey Weinstein, back when the indie film mogul was still a concert promoter.

"Brad decided on his own initiative one day to pick me up in the airport, in his own car, so I wouldn’t take a cab. The rest was history," Weinstein recalled Monday in a statement. He noted that Grey later worked "in the first Miramax office with Robert Newman and my mother" and that he was "crushed" by the news of Grey's death.

At just 20, Grey produced his first concert, an appearance by Frank Sinatra in Buffalo in 1978. (Decades later, Grey bought Sinatra's Beverly Hills home for $18.5 million and then razed it.) And as he tracked new comics, he discovered his first client, comedian Bob Saget.

Grey also executive produced such TV shows as The Naked Truth, Mr. Show With Bob and David, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, NewsRadio, The Steve Harvey Show, Maher's Politically Incorrect and Just Shoot Me!

His résumé as a movie producer also included Opportunity Knocks (1990), The Wedding Singer (1998), The Replacement Killers (1998), City by the Sea (2002), View From the Top (2003), Running With Scissors (2006) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).

As a manager, his clients included Pitt, Aniston, Maher, Marc Anthony, Jim Belushi, Wayne Brady, Dana Carvey, Bob Costas, Courteney Cox, Rudolph Giuliani, Greg Kinnear, Rob Lowe, John Malkovich, Lorne Michaels, Dennis Miller, Guy Ritchie, Adam Sandler, Martin Short, Christian Slater and Jimmy Smits.

In 1998, while at Brillstein-Grey, Grey was famously sued for $100 million by comedian Garry Shandling (they settled out of court a year later). Shandling's suit alleged that Grey's role as his manager and executive producer of The Larry Sanders Show represented a conflict of interest and that Grey was able to "triple-dip," taking excess commissions and fees out of the HBO series.

Grey is survived by his wife, Cassandra, and their son, Jules, born in 2015; his grown children Sam, Max and Emily from his marriage to Jill Grey (nee Gutterson), whom he met at SUNY-Buffalo; his mother, Barbara; his brother, Michael; and his sister, Robin. 

There will be a small private funeral service this week. A memorial service will be scheduled in the coming weeks, the family said.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC.

Mike Barnes contributed to this report.