Tom Sherak, a longtime marketing and distribution executive who served three terms as president of the Academy and was recently named Los Angeles’ film czar by Mayor Eric Garcetti, has died. He was 68.
Sherak had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001, and underwent extensive chemotheraphy last year. According to a Facebook posting by his daughter, the cancer was found to have returned and spread in January.
In November, Sherak had begun his $1-a-year job with the city, where his main goal was to push for incentives that would keep film and television production in Los Angeles.
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Before his death, Sherak was scheduled to receive two prestigious honors. The Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneer Foundation recently announced that he would receive its 2014 Pioneer of the Year Award on March 26 during the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas.
He was also scheduled to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 11.
Sherak’s family, which includes his wife Madeleine, his son William and his daughters Barbara and Melissa, released the following statement:
“To the entertainment community,
“With broken hearts we want to share with you the news that Tom Sherak passed away today after a long 12-year battle with prostate cancer. He died at home surrounded by his family giving him hugs, kisses, and love.
“Tom is, was, and always will be, our loving husband, daddy, papa, brother, friend, and ‘Go to Guy.’ He blessed this earth for 68 incredible years, and he will be missed every single day.
“Tom lived his life as an open book. He opened his heart and let the world in, and anyone who was lucky enough to know him knew first hand the power of his love. He gave everything he had to help others, regardless of whether or not he knew them. Tom is a true hero in our lives who has a star on the sidewalk and wings to fly.
“We love him so very much.”
Mayor Garcetti released this statement: “I am devastated to learn of the passing of my close friend and advisor Tom Sherak. Tom was a true Hollywood original, 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.
“In just a few short months, Tom laid a policy foundation that my Administration will stand on for the next four years. Tom’s work will continue through my office and the many charities to which he devoted so much of himself.
“Tom was a public servant in the truest sense long before he joined my administration. He will be deeply missed.”
Born in Brooklyn, Sherak began his Hollywood career with Paramount Pictures in 1970. He worked at 20th Century Fox for 17 years and became chairman of Fox’s Domestic Film Group.
He left the studio in 2000 to become a partner with Joe Roth in Revolution Studios, where he oversaw the release of films that included “Black Hawk Down,” “Across the Universe” and “Anger Management.” In recent years served as consultant for Skydance Productions, One Three Media and Marvel Studios, among others.
Sherak served three terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences between 2009 and 2012, succeeding Sid Ganis in the position that Sherak told TheWrap was “the best non-paying job in Hollywood.”
When Ganis finished his final term as Academy president in 2009, Sherak was a surprise choice for president of the Academy. He said he was inclined to refuse the nomination, which was made by past president Frank Pierson – but when another member of the AMPAS Board of Governors seconded the nomination and explained it was because “Tom makes me laugh,” Sherak said he reconsidered.
“I thought I could bring a sense of fun, and make some tough decisions when they needed to be made,” he told TheWrap.
While Ganis had been a more active president than his predecessor, Sherak went a step further and treated the position as almost a full-time job. During his time as president, the organization saw a wholesale reorganization of its executive structure, with longtime executive director Bruce Davis retiring and being replaced by CEO Dawn Hudson (an AMPAS newcomer) and COO Ric Robertson, who has since moved to consultancy status.
Sherak’s tenure also saw the signing of new long-term deals with ABC television and with the Hollywood & Highland Center; the revival of the stalled Academy Museum of Motion Pictures; and the controversial move from five to 10 Best Picture nominees (passed in Ganis’ final term, but implemented under Sherak), and its subsequent replacement with a sliding scale that produces anywhere from five to 10 nominees.
He also hired producer Brett Ratner to produce the Oscar show in 2011, only to see Ratner resign after making a number of crude and ill-considered remarks on Howard Stern’s radio show.
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In an interview with TheWrap the month he left office, Sherak said his fondest wish was to be part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony when construction began on the museum. Groundbreaking is expected to take place later this year, and the museum to open in 2017.
Sherak was active in a number of charities, and was particularly involved with the Southern California chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. As chairman of its annual Dinner of Champions, he helped make that event one that drew donors from throughout the entertainment industry, raising close to $50 million over the years.
He also spent time on the board of directors of the Motion Picture and Television Fund, and as chairman of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneer Foundation.
A diehard fans of the Dodgers since his days in Brooklyn, Sherak was close friends and neighbors with legendary Dodger announcer Vin Scully. He was a constant presence at Dodger Stadium until his cancer treatments sapped his strength and prevented him from going to the stadium most of last season.
In 2001, Sherak was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had already spread to the lymph nodes. While the cancer never went away, he told TheWrap it responded to treatment and allowed him to continue normal duties until last year, when he underwent grueling rounds of chemotherapy.
When he was named to the city’s film-czar position, he said that the chemo had worked. “All of my numbers are great,” he told TheWrap in September. “I’ll always live with this, but I’m going to be fine. It affects my body, not my mind.”