Sony announced today that Gareth Wigan, whose legendary half century career in the motion picture industry was integral to some of the most successful films ever made including Star Wars, passed away this morning after a brief illness. He was 78.
“Wigan’s distinguished journey as an agent, producer, studio executive and production chief is rich with notable and visionary achievements – from his work as a young production executive on Star Wars to his role as a pioneer in the growth of global cinema by championing such acclaimed filmmakers such as Ang Lee, Stephen Chow, Zhang Yimou, Guy Ritchie, Matthew Vaughn, and Feng Xiao Gong. London-born Wigan was, first and foremost, a passionate cinephile, singled out by his colleagues for his immense taste, endless intelligence, elegance, preparedness, and grace. A graduate of Oxford who began his career as an agent in the UK office of MCA in the late 1950s, Wigan represented such artists as director John Schlesinger (Sunday Bloody Sunday, Marathon Man), Richard Lester (A Hard Days Night), and British rock pioneer Ronnie Harwood, among many others. In the mid 1960s, he formed his own talent agency Gregson & Wigan Ltd., with his business partner Richard Gregson. Representing some of the most renowned British writers, directors, musicians and producers of the era, Wigan became a trailblazer with the first UK agency to open offices in Los Angeles and New York.
After selling the agency to EMI in 1970, Wigan produced his first film, the Hitchcockian thriller Unman, Wittering and Zigo (directed by John McKenzie). By the mid-1970s, Wigan moved to California, where he became a fast-rising studio executive for Twentieth Century Fox.
In addition to his role as a production executive on Star Wars, he was key to the executive team that shepherded some of the most critically acclaimed or commercially successful films of that time including All That Jazz, Breaking Away, Silver Streak, The Turning Point, An Unmarried Woman, and Alien.
In 1979, Wigan joined fellow Fox executives Alan Ladd Jr. and Jay Kanter to form The Ladd Company, a subsidiary of Warner Communications. In the ensuing years the trio developed and produced a broad range of hit films from Best Picture Oscar®-winner Chariots of Fire and the Oscar®-nominated The Right Stuff (1980) to the blockbuster Police Academy franchise.
Wigan left the Ladd Company to form an independent production company with producer Paula Weinstein, but in 1987 the lure of studio life took him to Columbia Pictures, where he joined the Culver City-based lot as a production consultant. Ten years later, in January 1997, he was named as co-vice chairman of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, sharing responsibility for all production activities at the legendary studio with Lucy Fisher.
During this era, Wigan was integral in remaking the studio and shepherding such hit films as Air Force One, Stuart Little, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Girl Interrupted, The Prince of Tides, Sense and Sensibility, The Age of Innocence, Postcards from the Edge, and countless others.
During the last decade of his extraordinary life, Wigan continued breaking new ground as an ardent supporter of local language production. Dedicated to bringing attention to distinguished films from all over the world, he was the driving force in the production of more than 40 films produced in more than 12 countries and 9 different languages, including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Kung Fu Hustle, Not One Less (winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival), The Road Home (winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival), Snatch, Layer Cake, Anatomie, Casi Divas, and many other acclaimed global gems. At the time of his death, he continued to serve as a Strategic Advisor to Sony Pictures Entertainment’s international film business.
In 2008, when Wigan stepped back from day-to-day operations co-running the Sony Pictures International Motion Pictures Production Group, he said of his career at Sony:
“I have been blessed with a long and fulfilling career and wonderful colleagues and friends, and while it is the right time to cut back a little bit, I’m not at all thinking about retirement. This role (as strategic advisor) will allow me to remain involved in doing what I love, while continuing to add value to the company which has been such a big part of my life.”
On learning of Wigan’s passing, some of the most celebrated filmmakers and artists of our time issued the following statements:
George Lucas said, “Gareth Wigan was one of the most kind and thoughtful executives I’ve ever worked with. He was a real supporter of creative talent. I’ll never forget the first time he saw Star Wars. It was just Gareth and Alan Ladd Jr. seeing an early cut of the film. Gareth was so moved that he cried. As a young filmmaker facing a lot of skeptics, his genuine love of the film meant the world to me. He was there for me when I needed him and I’ll always be grateful.”
Ang Lee, who worked with Wigan on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, said, “To my mind, Gareth Wigan was a unique figure in the movie business. He was a true English gentleman, a great soul. He made quality films, and he was also a pioneer of studio investment in foreign films. Gareth was passionate about culture and the culture of filmmaking, always supportive and full of insight. He was a role model and father figure to me and so many other filmmakers. Losing him is truly heartbreaking.”
Martin Scorsese added, “I have fond memories of our work together on The Age of Innocence. I’ve often wished we could have worked on another production as I’ve always had great admiration for Gareth’s intelligence, diplomacy and taste.”
Barbra Streisand, who worked with Wigan on The Prince of Tides, remembered him as “one of the smartest, kindest, most loving people I have ever known. I shall miss him dearly.”
Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment who worked with Wigan for close to 25 years, said, “Gareth was an inspirational and passionate leader. His love of movies and filmmakers was as rare and unique as the brilliant films he championed over the last four decades. He led by example and while he can never be replicated, his influence on our company and our industry will last forever. Gareth was also my dear and close friend and my heart breaks for Pat and his wonderful children. We will miss him terribly.”
Wigan was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He is survived by his wife, Pat Newcomb, his children Tracy John, Amanda Berris, Caroline Buhl, Jonathon Wigan, and grandchildren, Aminah Ahmad, Faroukh Ahmad, Autumn Buhl, Gareth Buhl, Gemma Wigan, and Skyler and Tessa Wigan.
A memorial service is currently being planned and details will be shared at the appropriate time.”