Former Studio Executive John Calley Dies at 81

Former studio executive and producer John Calley died Tuesday at the age of 81 after battling cancer.

During his 50-year career, Calley was the chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment and studio chief at MGM/United Artists and Warner Bros.

Sony Pictures will hold a memorial service in his honor. Further details will be announced.

Calley is survived by his daughter Sabrina Calley and step-children Emily Zinnemann, David Zinnemann and Will Firth from his marriage to Meg Tilly.

Below is an obit from Sony Pictures Entertainment:

John Calley, who led three major Hollywood studios and produced or championed a constellation of hit films, from CATCH-22 to THE DA VINCI CODE, during a legendary career that spanned more than 50 years, passed away today. He was 81.

Memorial arrangements for Mr.Calley are currently being planned and will be held at Sony Pictures Studios. In lieu of flowers, the family requests those who wish to honor his memory do so with a donation to their favorite charities. He is survived by his daughter Sabrina Calley and step-children Emily Zinnemann, David Zinnemann (Amy) and Will Firth from his marriage to Meg Tilly.

Mr. Calley formerly served as chairman and chief executive officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which he joined in 1996 following successful terms as studio chief at Warner Bros. in the 1970s and MGM/United Artists in the 1990s.

Known as much for his business acumen as his creative instincts, Mr. Calley was a low-key, erudite and respected executive whose relationships touched every corner of the industry. Mr. Calley remained active in the film and entertainment business until his death. He most recently produced the worldwide blockbuster hit THE DAVINCI CODE, among other recent projects.

Mr. Calley was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 2009 with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. At the time, the Academy recognized “his intellectual rigor, sophisticated artistic sensibilities and calm, understated manner” calling Mr. Calley “one of the most trusted and admired figures in Hollywood.”

“John was unique. As a friend he was always there and always funny. He made life a joy for those he loved,” said Mike Nichols. “As a studio head he was unfailingly supportive and didn’t try to do the filmmaker’s job. When he believed in someone he trusted and supported him and when very rarely he had a suggestion it was usually a life saver. In fact that’s what he was: a life saver.”

“The problem of making a comedy with John is that he was usually funnier than the actors,” said Buck Henry. Said Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman. Chief Executive Officer and President of Sony Corporation, “John Calley will be remembered in the history of Hollywood as an extraordinary studio chief, who ran three studios with a maximum of taste and a minimum of tyranny. Even today, the quality of his movies still have contemporary resonance. THE REMAINS OF THE DAY and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE demonstrate vividly the twin contrasts of British society that together explained the riots. CATCH-22 and THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY capture the unsettling ambivalence towards war you might expect from a former American soldier. MEN IN BLACK and SPIDER-MAN revealed he could partner with a younger executive like Amy Pascal and discover a whole new audience.

But John was more than a brilliant executive. I’m not sure he would even like that title. He was a wonderful raconteur, up there with Mike Nichols, Michael Caine and Peter Ustinov who could hold your attention for hours with rich anecdotes that capture the human dimensions of his beloved film industry; love’s labors never lost as long as he was there to remember them. His sense of humor made us delighted when we shared his adventures, and envious when we did not. Even in his lengthy illness he never lost his charm or ever felt sorry for himself. Life without his friendship will be so much less joyous. His generosity of spirit made those of us lucky enough to work with him feel we had a loyal and unique companion for life. We did.”
“John Calley was more than a mentor and boss he was the most extraordinary and generous friend,” said Amy Pascal, Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. “He had a steely business mind and the soul of an artist. His sense of humor about the business never made him cynical or got in the way of his passion for movies and directors. John’s taste may have seemed idiosyncratic but his pulse was unerring. How could one person have championed ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, BLAZING SADDLES, THE EXORCIST, DIRTY HARRY, KLUTE, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, at the exact right moment in time? Those are the instincts of a one-of-a-kind executive. He never pandered to the audience, he never accepted conventional studio wisdom and he never lost his enthusiasm. John was my guiding light. He taught me everything.”