Ron Ziskin, Producer on 'American Gladiators' and 'Stealing Sinatra,' Dies at 69

Ron Ziskin - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy Ziskin family

He worked on morning TV shows hosted by Maury Povich and Regis Philbin and played in a band that opened for The Doors.

Ron Ziskin, who produced the competition program American Gladiators, morning TV shows hosted by Maury Povich and Regis Philbin and films including the William H. Macy-starring Stealing Sinatra, has died. He was 69.

Ziskin died Saturday in Las Vegas of complications of vascular disease, his wife of 38 years, journalist Diane Wedner, said.

Ziskin also executive produced such telefilms as 1998's Futuresport, starring Wesley Snipes, Dean Cain and Vanessa Williams, and 2004's The Goodbye Girl, a remake of the Neil Simon hit starring Jeff Daniels, as well as Hunting the Lost Symbol, a 2009 documentary based on the Dan Brown best-seller The Lost Symbol.

"He was one of the most creative and imaginative producers I ever worked with," Hank Cohen, CEO of Trifecta Entertainment & Media and former president of MGM Television Entertainment, said in a statement. "He was one of the most decent and genuine people I've ever known."

Ziskin was nominated for a Daytime Emmy in 1995 for his work on the original American Gladiators, which ran in syndication from 1989-96. 

Born in Brooklyn on April 28, 1951, he and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1965. Ziskin, who played bass guitar, and his high school band A Little Bit of Sound landed a recording contract when he was 16, and they once opened for The Doors. He went on to record bass tracks for singles and movie scores in the 1960s and early '70s. 

He graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor's degree in broadcasting in 1973 and turned his attention to television, producing AM San Francisco, starring Povich. He returned to Los Angeles in 1980 and produced the KABC-TV program A.M. Los Angeles, hosted by Philbin.

In 1984, Ziskin established Four Point Entertainment, which developed more than 1,000 hours of primetime and daytime content for television, including American Gladiators.

He also produced the 1992 Fox TV comedy Likely Suspects and other programs including Prime Time PetsMake Me LaughGreat DrivesAmazing America and Saved by the Light, based on a best-seller by Dannion Brinkley.

Said Likely Suspects star Sam McMurray: "Ron was a man of many accomplishments: producer, chef, musician and devoted father. Mostly, though, he was a loyal friend, always."

Five years after selling Four Point to Dove Audio in 1996, he launched Ron Ziskin Productions, where he developed and executive produced series and movies like Stealing Sinatra (2003), based on the real-life kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. in 1963.

Ziskin often coached aspiring producers about how to survive in competitive Hollywood, Wedner said.

"He mentored countless young people in the entertainment industry while also lavishing his time, generosity and love on his family and friends," she said. "Ron was a warm, supportive, funny, talented person." She and Ziskin divorced in 2015 but remained close.

Survivors include daughters Leah and Anna, two grandsons, a sister, a brother, a niece and four nephews.

"My dad was a magnetic presence," said Anna. "He filled the house with laughter and poured his heart into even the smallest tasks: illustrating every card he sent my sister and me at summer camp and presenting every professionally crafted meal with artistic flair. He embraced life and happily bestowed that value on my mom, his children and his friends."