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R.I.P. Tom Sherak, former Academy president

Longtime Hollywood movie executive Tom Sherak has died at the age of 68, 12 years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Starting in 1983, Sherak worked at 20th Century Fox for 17 years, becoming the studio’s executive vice-president in 1990. During his time at Fox, he oversaw production on, or helped shape the release of, films such as Romancing The Stone, Aliens, Die Hard, Speed, Independence Day, and Titanic. More recently, he worked as a consultant for Marvel Studios and other film production entities.

In recent years, Sherak served two terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, from 2009 to 2012. Sherak used his time in office to expand the number of Best Picture nominees from five to 10, and restructure the organization in ways that were designed to bring in more input from younger members and increase racial and sexual diversity.  He also shored up the Academy’s finances and worked with the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art to complete plans for the Academy’s own film museum.

Sherak’s time in office was also marked by some controversial moments regarding hosts for the Oscars telecast. It was Sherak’s mission to reach younger audiences that led to the poorly received 2011 pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco. The next year, plans for Eddie Murphy to host and Brett Ratner to co-produce blew up when Ratner was obliged to step down, following a series of embarrassing interviews. (Murphy elected to back out too.) Still, whatever headaches came with his unsalaried position, Sherak told interviewers he felt rejuvenated by it: “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.”

Last September, Sherak accepted an invitation from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to take on the newly created position of “film czar,” tasked with encouraging local film production and battling “runaway production” costs. Sherak took the job even while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, for a salary of $1 a year. 

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