Oscar Producer Gilbert Cates Dead at 77

The producer-director was found on the UCLA campus

Gilbert Cates, the long-time producer of the Academy Awards and two-term president of the Directors Guild of America, has died.

He was 77 and recently underwent heart surgery.

Cates was found collapsed in a parking lot on the campus of UCLA. According to a UCLA spokesperson, "Emergency medical personnel responded to a call on campus at about 5:50 p.m. Monday but were unable to revive Cates. The Los Angeles County coroner is investigating the cause of death."

Aside from producing 14 Oscar shows in 18 years, Cates was a producing director and president of the board at the Geffen Playhouse and a former dean of the university's School of Theater, Film and Television from 1990 to 1998.

Also read: Gil Cates: The Man Who Saved the Oscars

He was a member of the Academy's Board of Governors for eight years, winning an Emmy in 1991 for the 63rd annual Oscars. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.

Cates loved the awards, and was quoted in 2006 as saying, "If you want a sense of what America is like, you'll watch the Oscars."

He was the third person ever to receive the Directors Guild's Presidents Award. He also received the guild's Robert B. Aldrich Award and an Honorary Life Membership.

Among Cates' feature films are 1970's "I Never Sang for My Father" and 1973s "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams." Both were nominated for Oscars.

"Gil was our colleague, our friend and a former governor of the Academy," said Academy President Tom Sherak in a statement. He lauded Cates as "a consummate professional who gave the Academy and the world some of the most memorable moments in Oscar history," calling his death a tremendous loss for the entertainment industry.

Said DGA president Taylor Hackford in a statement: "There are few people in the history of the guild who have matched Gil's vision and influence on the organization and the industry. There was no greater champion of the creative and economic rights of directors and thier teams and no truer friend to the membership, board and staff of the DGA."

"So sorry to hear Gil Cates has died," Steve Martin tweeted Tuesday shortly after news of Cate's death spread. "He helmed two Oscar shows I hosted. He was delightful, wise, canny and unperturbed. A great fellow."

In a written statement, Teri Schwartz, dean of UCLA's theater school, said, "Our entire TFT community is overwhelmingly saddened by the loss of our beloved mentor, colleague and friend. Today we mourn our great loss but also celebrate Gil's extraordinary vision and countless contributions, not only to TFT as founding dean and distinguished professor but to the entertainment and performing arts industries and the education of our students, who benefited from his remarkable talent, insights, generosity, experience and wisdom. Our deepest condolences and love go out to Gil's beloved family at this very difficult time."

Cates was born in New York City in 1934. He was married to Dr. Judith Reichman and had four children — including actor-director-writer Gil Cates Jr. — two stepchildren and six grandchildren.

He was a graduate of Syracuse University, where he originally was a pre-med student. But almost by accident, he stumbled into theater. He had been a member of the school's fencing team and was brought in to teach actors in Syracuse University's production of "Richard III" how to handle swords.

He liked it enough that he switched his major to theater.

He broke into the movie business with the 1966 circus-themed "Rings Around the World."

Throughout his life, he moved among theater, television and film. His television credits include 11 years as executive producer of "An American Celebration at Ford's Theater" and the 1972 Emmy Award-winning "To All My Friends on Shore," starring Bill Cosby.

He recently directed Jeffrey Hatcher's "A Picasso," starring Roma Downey and Peter Michael Goetz, at the Geffen.

He directed the inaugural production of the newly renovated Geffen, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," in 2005.

He was the younger brother of producer-director-writer Joseph Cates and the uncle of actress Phoebe Cates.