Longtime film industry executive Tom Sherak, who rose to chairman of Twentieth Century Fox domestic film group over 17 years and served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences from 2009 to 2012, has succumbed at his Calabasas home after a 12-year fight against prostate cancer. Most recently, Sherak had been appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti as LA's first "film czar," to lure runaway production back to the city. He was paid an annual salary of $1.
In my youth, I once worked for Sherak at Fox as director of publicity on such movies as "Romancing the Stone," "The Revenge of the Nerds" and "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." He was a good boss who looked after his employees and earned their trust. I vividly recall a meeting in his office after Barry Diller took over the studio. Sherak called Diller on the phone, asking whether to supply the year's actual "rentals" (the amount of the gross collected by the studio from theaters) to Variety for their annual issue. Diller told him to tell the truth.
I stayed close to Sherak over the years; he was the kind of man who extended himself, generously and selflessly, for those around him. I wasn't the only one fond of the former exhibitor from Brooklyn and his wife Madeleine. He knew how to take care of people, from movie stars to baseball managers Tommy Lasorda and Joe Torre. He had a collection of his Fox bosses' license plates in his private bathroom.
At the Academy, which Sherak joined in 1983 as a member of the Executives Branch, he served three terms on the Board of Governors, from August 2003 through July 2012, the last three as President. Sherak oversaw the controversial expansion beyond five Best Picture nominees and overcame his fear of online hacking to preside over the move to digital ballots. He also took the heat when his choice for producer, Brett Ratner, had to be replaced by Billy Crystal.
He championed the hiring of new Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, who he worked with closely on diversifying the Academy and partnering with LACMA on the new Academy Museum at La Brea and Wilshire. He also brought in Disney chief Robert Iger as lead fund-raiser.
Over five decades, Sherak worked in motion picture marketing, distribution and production at not only Fox but Joe Roth's Revolution Studios (shepherding 30 films over seven years including “Black Hawk Down,” “Anger Management,” “Hellboy,” “13 Going On 30” and “Across the Universe"). He started out at Paramount Pictures and moved on to be VP and head film buyer at General Cinema. In recent years Sherak was a consultant to Marvel Studios and Relativity Media, helped to take films through the ratings process, including "The Wolf of Wall Street," and was on the faculty of the UCLA Producers Program.
He was known for his stellar support of such charities as the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation (he once served as chairman) and the Motion Picture and Television Fund (he served on the board), as well as Children's Charity Variety. His daughter Melissa suffers from MS; Sherak founded the MS Hope Foundation which raised millions to support the needs of the Multiple Sclerosis community; every year he would rope friends and colleagues into attending the annual MS Dinner for Champions. He also served on the boards of the Southern California Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Fulfillment Fund of Southern California.
Statement from Tom Sherak's family:
“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 firsthand the power of his love."
Statement from Dawn Hudson, Academy CEO
“He was my mentor and my friend. I learned from him, I laughed with him, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the time we shared together. He had a huge influence on the direction of our Academy and on me personally. I will miss laughing with him most of all.
Sherak had a puckish sense of humor which showed up in his ad campaigns. At the 2011 Academy’s Governors Awards, Sherak came onto the dais disguised as Darth Vader, accompanied by “Star Wars” Stormtroopers. He then made a toast to the late Laura Ziskin and Gil Cates “for all of us who have struggled with cancer.” (More at Variety here; The NYT here.)