Former MPAA Ratings Chief Richard Heffner Dies at 88

With him in charge, Brian De Palma's "Scarface" received a contentious X rating. Heffner also helped launch WNET-TV in New York and created and hosted the public-affairs program “The Open Mind.”

Richard Heffner, who spent two decades as chairman of the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America, died Tuesday of a cerebral hemorrhage in New York. He was 88.

Heffner was asked by then-MPAA president Jack Valenti to become head of the Classification and Ratings Administration in 1974. The board at the time assigned the ratings P, PG, R and X to films, then added PG-13 in 1984 and NC-17 in 1990 under his watch.

“His significant contributions to our industry and dedication to evolving our film ratings system will not be forgotten,” MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd said in a statement.

With Heffner in charge, CARA famously gave Brian De Palma’s violent 1983 film Scarface an X rating (back then, the rating was more associated with pornography) before edits and several resubmissions to the board eventually got the Al Pacino starrer released as an R.

A native of New York City, Heffner in 1956 created the PBS program The Open Mind and was still producing and hosting. (There are episodes of the show with him that have yet to air.) And in the early 1960s, he helped launch what would become WNET, the public broadcasting station in New York City.

At the time of his death, Heffner was still teaching two courses at Rutgers University, where he had been a faculty member since 1964. His book, A Documentary History of the United States, an anthology of important public documents in American history, was first published in 1952 and has been through 11 editions.

Survivors include his wife, Elaine, sons Daniel and Andrew and grandchildren Alexander, Jeremy, Zachary and Sophia. The family requests that donations be made to WNET with a note asking that the money be used for “the continuing production of Richard Heffner’s The Open Mind.”