I interviewed Bob Shaye, the co-chairman of New Line, at length last week for a story in today’s Business Day section of the Times. In the piece, Shaye addressed numerous rumors swirling around Hollywood about his studio, and revealed a fairly big piece of news: that he was in a coma for six weeks in 2005, and nearly died from a sudden illness. The experience put him out of commission for several months. Jeff Bewkes, the president of Time Warner, gives Shaye his vote of confidence. Read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/19/business/media/19new.html
The episode confirms a brutal reality in Hollywood: never show your weakness. Physical infirmities and illnesses – including near-fatal ones – are to be guarded as secretly as the national nuclear codes. I’ve seen this personally, as when the former MPAA chief Jack Valenti (in his 80s by that time) was furious when I once reported his collapse at a dinner party in Paris. Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein was topic A on the rumor mill when he disappeared into the hospital several years ago with an apparently life-threatening, still-mysterious illness. When Oscar producer Laura Ziskin was seriously ill with cancer, there was cause for alarm when I called up to inquire after her health. The best example of all came last year at the Oscars, when the director Robert Altman, in accepting an honorary statue, dropped the news before an audience of hundreds of millions that he’d had a heart transplant. Backstage in the press room, flummoxed journalists asked him why he’d never revealed this before. With well-founded logic, Altman replied that he was afraid he’d never work again if people knew. He died later in the year, in November, from leukemia.