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Obituary: Richard Zanuck

Richard Zanuck

Obituary by Jack Foley

HOLLYWOOD producer Richard Zanuck has died at the age of 77. He suffered a heart attack at his Beverley Hills home on Friday, July 13, 2012.

In a prolific career that saw his friend Steven Spielberg describe him as a “cornerstone of the film industry”, Zanuch produced such legendary films as Jaws, The Sound of Music, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Driving Miss Daisy.

He also became the youngest studio head in history when he took over 20th Century Fox aged 28.

Richard Darryl Zanuck was born in Los Angeles, California, on December 13, 1934, to actress Virginia Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck, then head of 20th Century Fox. Given his parents industry links, it was almost inevitable that Richard would follow in their footsteps and, sure enough, while studying at Stanford University, he began his career in the film industry working for the 20th Century Fox story department.

He began producing in 1959, when he helped Compulsion with director Richard Fleischer before becoming the president of 20th Century Fox in the ’60s, overseeing the release of some of the era’s classics, including The Sound of Music and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

However, he was fired from his tenure by his own father after a string of box office failures such as 1967’s Doctor Dolittle and promptly joined Warner Bros. as Executive Vice President. One year later, he formed The Zanuck/Brown Company.

But it was his decision to join up with David Brown in 1972 and form the independent production company The Zanuck/Brown Company at Universal Pictures that really paved the way for his future success.

Among the first films the duo produced were a pair of Steven Spielberg’s early efforts, 1974’s The Sugarland Express and, most notably, 1975’s Jaws.

They subsequently produced such box office hits as The Verdict, Cocoon and Driving Miss Daisy (1989) before dissolving their partnership in 1988.

That final film won a total of four Oscars, including best picture for Zanuck and his wife and collaborator Lili Fini Zanuck.

And Zanuck and Brown were jointly awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1990.

In recent years, Zanuck really stepped up his producing work to be part of some of the most memorable films of recent years and work with some of the very best directors.

He worked with Tim Burton six times, producing Planet of the Apes, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alice in Wonderland and – this year – Dark Shadows, becoming the director’s producer of choice.

And he also worked with Clint Eastwood on True Crime and Sam Mendes on Road To Perdition.

He was currently helping to produce the horror-thriller hybrid Hidden with Alexander Skarsgård and Andrea Riseborough.

Among those to pay early tribute was Spielberg, who said in a statement: “He taught me everything I know about producing. He was one of the most honourable and loyal men of our profession and he fought tooth and nail for his directors.”