Kirk Simon, Oscar-Winning Documentarian, Dies at 63

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Kirk Simon

The HBO and PBS veteran collaborated with Ken Burns while in college and made a film about chimps with Dr. Jane Goodall.

Kirk Simon, the veteran Oscar- and Emmy-winning documentarian who was behind projects centering on Dr. Jane Goodall, Placido Domingo and the Pulitzer Prize, has died. He was 63.

Simon died Saturday in New York City of cardiac arrest, his brother, Ron Simon, curator of television & radio for The Paley Center for Media in New York, announced.

Simon won his Oscar (shared with frequent collaborator Karen Goodman) in the best documentary, short subjects category for Strangers No More (2010), about the children of immigrant workers struggling to make a new life in Tel Aviv.

The 30-year documentary veteran received three other Academy Award nominations and won the duPont-Columbia Silver Baton during his career, and his work has been seen on PBS, HBO and MTV.

Last year, he produced and directed a documentary about the 100-year history of the Pulitzer Prize that played in theaters and is now airing on Starz.

Simon wrote and produced Chimps: So Like Us (1990) with Goodall, which required him to sleep in a tent on the shore of Lake Tanganyika for three weeks to make this Oscar-nominated short for HBO.

He also oversaw the 14-part series Kindergarten, which airs on HBO Family, and produced and directed the HBO series Masterclass in which artists like Domingo, Edward Albee and Frank Gehry mentor high school students. Simon won an Emmy Award in 2015 for the latter.

Sheila Nevins, the former longtime head of HBO' documentary unit, once noted that Simon's arts and educational films had "an empathy and optimism rare in nonfiction filmmaking."

For PBS' American Masters, Simon produced the Emmy-nominated Buckminster Fuller: Thinking Out Loud, about the famed architect, in 1996 and a biography of writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, which in 1987 earned him his first Oscar nom.

He produced and directed 2002's The Incredible Human Body, a National Geographic-branded special that showed human conception on television for the first time.

Simon also was responsible for the series Coming Out Stories on MTV’s Logo network.

Born in Philadelphia, Simon studied under legendary teacher Jerome Liebling at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, alongside fellow students Goodman, Ken Burns, Buddy Squires and Roger Sherman, all of whom went on to make their mark in the documentary arena.

Simon and Burns made their first documentary working together on a 1974 film about Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts.

At the time of his death, Simon was working on a film about conductor Michael Tilson Thomas for American Masters series and raising funds for a film about actor-director Alan Alda.

In addition to his brother, survivors include his wife, Mina; son, Oliver; daughters Allegra and Maya; and granddaughters Zoe and Eve.

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