Tom Sherak, for­mer head of mo­tion pic­ture academy, dies at 68

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - HEALTH - By DAVID COLKER

LOS AN­GE­LES — Tom Sherak had a long ca­reer as a stu­dio ex­ec­u­tive and was in­volved in hun­dreds of films, in­clud­ing “Black Hawk Down,” “Mrs. Doubt­fire” and “Star Wars: Episode I - The Phan­tom Men­ace.” But Sherak is best known for the jobs he did for free or al­most free.

For three years end­ing in 2012, he was out­spo­ken pres­i­dent of the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sciences, dur­ing which he launched ini­tia­tives but also had to deal with pub­lic con­tro­ver­sies, in­clud­ing the re­place­ment of the pro­ducer and host of an Os­car show.

In Septem­ber, at the re­quest of Mayor Eric Garcetti, he be­came Los An­ge­les’ film czar, charged with try­ing to re­verse the tide of run­away pro­duc­tion. He took the czar job, which came with a $1-a-year salary, even as he was un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy treat­ments for prostate can­cer.

“I truly be­lieve in that virtue of want­ing to help give back for all the fruits my fam­ily and I have been able to have all th­ese years,” he told The Hol­ly­wood Reporter. “It makes you a whole per­son.”

Sherak, 68, died Tues­day at home in Cal­abasas. He had been bat­tling prostate can­cer for 12 years, ac­cord­ing to a fam­ily state­ment. A few hours be­fore he died, a star hon­or­ing him was in­stalled on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame in prepa­ra­tion for a cer­e­mony sched­uled for Feb. 14.

“Tom was a true Hol­ly­wood orig­i­nal,” Garcetti said in a state­ment, “mov­ing up the lad­der to pro­mote block­busters, run­ning the Os­cars and hav­ing a bulging Rolodex filled with not just A-list con­tacts, but so many close friends who were smit­ten by his hu­mor, drive and spirit.”

Dur­ing his ca­reer, whether in the com­mer­cial end of the film in­dus­try or at the academy, Sherak was not shy about ex­press­ing his opin­ions in a spir­ited way. But he was also known as a diplo­mat who sought com­pro­mise, which is how he be­came pres­i­dent of the academy.

In early 2009, when he was a mem­ber of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s board of gover­nors, he got in such a heated ar­gu­ment with screen­writer Frank Pier­son at a board meet­ing that it nearly turned phys­i­cal. At a meet­ing a month later, Sherak said he still be­lieved in his po­si­tion, but un­der­stood Pier­son’s and said, “Let’s do it his way.”

Later that year, when it came time to elect a new pres­i­dent, Pier­son nom­i­nated Sherak, who said he never cov­eted the non­pay­ing job. But once it was his, he jumped into it with en­thu­si­asm.

Not that it was al­ways smooth sail­ing. At the start of his ten­ure, a much-hyped project, the con­struc­tion of an academy mu­seum, was on hold be­cause of fundrais­ing dif­fi­cul­ties in an eco­nomic down­turn. And in 2010, long­time Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Bruce Davis, who had run the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in a closely held fash­ion, an­nounced his re­tire­ment. Sherak took the op­por­tu­nity to re­work the academy’s struc­ture.

An out­sider — Dawn Hud­son, who had run the Film In­de­pen­dent group — was brought in as chief ex­ec­u­tive, and some vet­eran staffers left. Her push for more racial diver­sity and de­sire to bring younger film peo­ple into the in­vi­ta­tion-only academy also ruf­fled some feath­ers.

In a 2012 Los An­ge­les Times in­ter­view, Sherak called his years at the academy among the most sat­is­fy­ing of his ca­reer. “Get­ting up at 2 a.m. to do the Os­car nom­i­na­tions on ABC, I was here be­fore any­one else. I couldn’t wait to get here. It was like I was a kid again.”

Thomas Mitchell Sherak was born June 22, 1945, in Brook­lyn, N.Y. He served state­side in the Army dur­ing the Viet­nam War and in 1970 en­tered a train­ing pro­gram at Para­mount Pic­tures, work­ing in dis­tri­bu­tion of­fices on the East Coast and in the Mid­west.

Paul Beaty/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Tom Sherak waits with an Oscar be­fore board­ing “Oscar One” head­ing to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards cer­e­mony, at O’Hare In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Chicago on Feb. 9, 2012.

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