Former United Artists head Andy Albeck dies

Signed off on 'Raging Bull,' 'Heaven's Gate'

Andy Albeck, who as head of United Artists signed off on the classic "Raging Bull" and the infamous flop "Heaven's Gate," died of heart failure Sept. 29, four days after his 89th birthday, at NYU Hospital in New York.

Albeck spent more than 30 years at UA, where he worked with such renowned filmmakers as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola and impacted the iconic James Bond, Rocky and Pink Panther franchises.

After stints as president of UA broadcasting and senior vp operations, Albeck was named studio president and CEO in 1978 after the previous studio leadership left and formed Orion Pictures. His three-year stint at the top was well-documented in former UA executive Steven Bach's best-selling book "Final Cut," which focused on the making of the Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate."

The 1980 Western, starring Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken, is considered one of the biggest box-office bombs in history. Plagued by cost overruns that ballooned its budget to $40 million, the film earned less than $3 million, was pelted by critics and led to the demise of UA, then owned by Transamerica. Cimino, who also wrote the film, was just two years removed from "The Deer Hunter," which won the Academy Award for best picture and earned him the best director Oscar.

The problems led to a move away from director-driven films and a shift toward greater studio control.

Albeck, however, was a major supporter of Scorsese's "Raging Bull," a film also plagued by negative speculation. Albeck called the director a "true artist" after an early screening in New York, and the film went on to win two Oscars, including one for Robert De Niro as best actor.

Born in Russia and raised and schooled in Japan, Albeck began his career in the film industry in 1939 as a sales representative for Columbia Pictures in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). In 1950, he joined Eagle Lion in New York as its assistant foreign sales manager, and a year later Eagle Lion was acquired by UA.

Albeck left UA in 1981 and, with his wife Lotte, nurtured his passion for the outdoors as a Christmas tree farmer on 200 acres in Lafayette, N.J. The Albeck Family Christmas Tree farm won four grand championship titles at the Flemington Fair for their blue spruce trees from 1984-87.

In 1952, Albeck met Lotte after her cousin, U.S. Army Col. Mickey Marcus, brought her to New York from Sweden, where she had fled from her native Poland during World War II. Marcus helped Lotte gain a role in the foreign department at UA.

Marcus later served as Israel's first general under the pseudonym "Michael Stone," and Albeck helped to tell his life story in the 1966 UA film "Cast a Giant Shadow," starring Kirk Douglas as Mickey.

In 1980, Albeck appeared in Allen's "Stardust Memories" as a studio head based on himself.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his children, Johannes and Nina; his grandchildren, Brian, Lauren, Alison, Andreas, William and Elisabeth; and his great-grandchildren, Maya and Sean.