In a shocking development, it saddens me to report that Brad Grey has died at age 59. His death, from cancer, comes months after his exit as chairman/CEO of Paramount Pictures, a job he held for 12 years. He died last night in Holmby Hills, CA, with friends and family at his side. Grey is survived by his wife, Cassandra Grey, their son Jules, his three grown children Sam, Max and Emily from his marriage to Jill (nee Gutterson) Grey, his mother Barbara Schumsky, his brother Michael Grey and his sister Robin Grey.
The family said that there will be a small private funeral service later this week. A memorial service will be scheduled in the coming weeks. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC. Grey was integral in raising money for alternative life-saving cancer research at USC’s Westside Cancer Center: In one night, they collected $4.5M at the Rebels with a Cause event when Oracle founder Ellison matched funds that brought the total to $9M, making it the largest fundraiser ever for the Keck School of Medicine.
Grey was a larger than life figure in Hollywood’s ranks, with a talent for deal making and working with stars he brought into the Paramount fold like World War Z star and producer Brad Pitt. Grey surprised many back in 2005 when he accepted Sumner Redstone’s offer to take the reins of Paramount Pictures as chairman/CEO. To do that, he left the firm he co-founded with Bernie Brillstein, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which he helped build into a management/production powerhouse and where he was executive producer of shows including such seminal series as The Sopranos, The Larry Sanders Show, Real Time With Bill Maher and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Grey separately co-founded Plan B with BGE clients Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, leaving to take the Paramount job before production began on what would become a Best Picture winner The Departed, an Americanized remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs which Martin Scorsese directed with Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon heading a strong ensemble cast for Warner Bros. Pitt eventually took the reins of Plan B — along with Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner — and followed Grey to Paramount, where it stayed in a first look deal for many years. (A disagreement over another eventual Best Picture winner, 12 Years A Slave, led to a move to New Regency, and a more recent shift to Annapurna.)
The Bronx-born Grey started in show business while he was matriculating at the University of Buffalo, and began his career as an assistant to Harvey Weinstein while he and brother Bob started out promoting rock concerts. Grey’s first production was a Frank Sinatra concert in Buffalo at age 20, and then he began signing stand-up comics at comedy clubs, with Bob Saget becoming his first client. Many more followed. Even though his long relationship with signature client Shandling ended in lawsuits, Grey was considered the most successful talent manager of his era.
At Paramount, Grey came in to oversee a studio that early on included the prestige shingles Paramount Vantage, Paramount Classics and Paramount Insurge, and had early successes that included reviving the Mission: Impossible franchise and launching Iron Man and other films in a distribution deal with Marvel, and such films as Shrek the Third, the Transformers and Paranormal Activity franchises, and prestige pictures including An Inconvenient Truth, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Babel, Shutter Island, The Fighter and True Grit. Grey oversaw the purchase of DreamWorks SKG that brought Steven Spielberg, Stacey Snider and David Geffen into the fold, and made a separate deal to distribute DreamWorks Animation films for Jeffrey Katzenberg’s company. Grey also was responsible for the worldwide business operations for Paramount Pictures International, Paramount Famous Productions, Paramount Home Media Distribution, Paramount Animation, Studio Group and Worldwide Television Distribution.
Grey was re-upped in 2015 by Shari Redstone and Philippe Dauman in a deal that was to run through 2020 and that seemed an endorsement to turn the studio around. But Redstone and Dauman ended up on either side of a Viacom power struggle. Grey ultimately lost his job because Paramount’s output of motion picture releases yielded fewer and fewer films, with the studio finishing at or near the bottom in market share in the final years. In Paramount’s last fiscal year under Grey’s leadership, the studio bore the results of this attrition, posting a $445 million loss. Much of this was because of the cost-cutting management style of incoming Viacom chief Dauman, who cut spending on Paramount and Viacom’s TV networks in favor of stock buybacks. Whatever the reason, Paramount stood still while rivals like Disney, Universal and Fox made forward-thinking acquisitions to boost IP that would appeal globally, since offshore ticket sales had grown to 75% of movie grosses, while domestic DVD sales had cratered. While Grey said most years showed profit, that was because the studio was being managed on the margins, but it was not growing like rivals, and numerous production presidents came and went.
Paramount had an early opportunity to continue its relationship with Marvel by acquiring the company, but it did not move forward with a deal that seemed pricey at the time. Disney paid $4 billion, a price that in hindsight seems a bargain. The DreamWorks deal imploded in personality clashes, and Spielberg and Snider were granted a divorce. While that left Paramount in possession of its most successful franchise, Michael Bay’s Transformers, the loss of three major product generators in DreamWorks, Marvel and DreamWorks Animation and an inability to generate enough home grown films made Paramount an also-ran in the last few years of Grey’s reign. Meanwhile, turmoil at the top of Viacom finally worked itself out with Dauman’s exit, Shari Redstone calling the shots and Bob Bakish taking over as Viacom chief. Grey’s lieutenant, Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore, was let go after endorsing Dauman’s attempt to sell 49% of the film studio to Dalian Wanda for $4.9 billion (he felt it would bring much needed cash to make movies), a move that ran them afoul of the Redstone clan.
Grey made a presentation to the Redstones that he should spearhead Paramount’s resurrection. This came at a time when Paramount had what seemed like a strong slate of releases during Oscar season, including Fences, the Scorsese-directed Silence, the Denis Villeneuve-directed Arrival, and the Robert Zemeckis-directed Allied. Arrival and Fences received Best Picture nominations and Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress, but the others disappeared quickly. Grey also set up a major co-financing deal with Chinese companies Shanghai Film Group Corp and Beijing-based Huahua Media for those companies to fund 25% or more of the studio’s entire film slate for the next three years, with an option for a fourth. Worth a potential $1 billion in production funds to Paramount, the deal was reported to be on the rocks as the Chinese government put the brakes on offshore investments, but insiders maintained all along that it would happen as constructed. Ultimately, the Redstones thought it best to start over with a new chief executive, which it got in Jim Gianopulos, a winner at Fox who himself was unceremoniously let go and who seems a glove fit to turn things around. The co-fi deal will be a legacy accomplishment for Grey, along with the resurrection of Paramount Television under former digital executive Amy Powell. The co-fi deal in particular is expected to help Gianopulos as he rebuilds the studio with the necessary resources from Redstone, the lack of which hampered the latter part of Grey’s chairmanship.
Outside of Paramount, Grey was on the UCLA Executive Board for the Medical Sciences, the USC School of Cinema-Television Board of Councilors, the LACMA Board of Trustees, and the Board of Directors for Project ALS, Kipps School and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.