Eric Pleskow, Former President of United Artists and Orion Pictures, Dies at 95

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Eric Pleskow

Seven best picture Oscar winners, including 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' 'Annie Hall' and 'The Silence of the Lambs,' were released during his regime.

Eric Pleskow, the former studio head at United Artists and Orion Pictures whose companies won seven best picture Oscars under his watch, has died. He was 95.

Pleskow died Tuesday in Westport, Connecticut, Eva Rotter, managing director of the Vienna International Film Festival, told The Hollywood Reporter. He had served as president of the Viennale since 1998.

"His death is a great loss for all of us," the festival said in a statement. "Eric had a fulfilled and long life, and we appreciated him as a longtime friend and companion of our festival. As president and patron of the Viennale, he has always carried us with his humor and foresight."

Pleskow helped lead United Artists from 1973-78, when the company released the eventual best picture Oscar winners One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Rocky (1976) and Annie Hall (1977).

Then, after he exited with fellow top execs Arthur Krim, Mike Medavoy, Robert Benjamin and William Bernstein in a spat with UA parent Transamerica Corp. to launch Orion, that company reaped success with Amadeus (1984), Platoon (1986), Dances With Wolves (1990) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) taking home the top Oscar.

He was with Orion as president and then chairman until 1992.

Born to Jewish parents in Vienna in 1924, Pleskow fled the Nazis in 1939 to come to the U.S. After training as a film editor, he served in the U.S. Army and after World War II was involved in the rebuilding of Bavaria Studios in Germany.

He joined UA in the early 1950s as a European sales manager before rising through the ranks to become the studio's first European since Charlie Chaplin to head the studio.

Pleskow was named an honorary citizen of Vienna in 2007, and a commemorative plaque in City Hall has his name listed after that of Billy Wilder.