Sidney Sheinberg, who with Lew Wasserman built MCA Inc. and Universal Studios into Hollywood powers, died Thursday at age 84. His death was announced in an Instagram post by his son, producer-director Jon Sheinberg. No cause of death was immediately revealed.
“We are all saddened by the passing of Sid Sheinberg and our thoughts are with his family and friends,” said a statement from Ron Meyer, NBCUniversal ‘s vice chairman. “He will be forever a part of Universal Studios’ legacy and his contributions to the industry will never be forgotten.”
Casey Wasserman, the grandson of Lew Wasserman, also issued a statement. “Sid was a giant, in stature, business and heart. He was a true partner to my grandfather and the industry, and will be sorely missed by all. Our thoughts and prayers are with Lorraine, Jon and Bill. “
Sidney Sheinberg was a lawyer who served as president of COO of MCA Inc. and Universal Studios for 40 years. His life reads like a Hollywood history: he gave Steven Spielberg his first job as a TV director, and transformed Universal into a major player. Universal released the highest-grossing films of the last three decades of the 20th century, including Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park. Sheinberg’s other notable film successes included Schindler’s List and Back to the Future.
The Back to the Future film had a funny Sheinberg tie-in. Sheinberg attempted to persuade Spielberg that the title of the movie should be changed to Space Man From Pluto. His suggestion was not heeded.
Sheinberg will also be remembered for his infamous line, “I consider litigation as a profit center,” made in the heat of negotiations. The line was later repeated in court.
He also battled director Terry Gilliam over the final cut of the film Brazil, an enormous executive/creative battle that was memorialized in a film and book.
Born January 14, 1935 to Jewish immigrants, Sheinberg grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas. He went to Columbia Law School in New York before heading west, arriving in 1958. He taught at UCLA School of Law and joined Revue Productions, an MCA TV subsidiary, as his entree to show business.
The crowning achievement of Sheinberg’s career was selling MCA and Universal to Japanese firm Matsushita Electric for $6.59 billion in 1990. He stayed another five years, seeing Matsushita give way to the Bronfman family’s acquisition of the company. After that, he produced several feature films through his own production company, The Bubble Factory, working with his sons over the decade that followed.
Sheinberg was also a power in music, brokering the purchase of Motown Records in 1988 for $61 million and the purchase of Geffen Records two years later for $550 million.
Sheinberg was the vice chair of the Board of Human Rights Watch and co-founder of The Children’s Action Network, as well as a member of the board of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He was also vice chairman emeritus of the Museum of Television and Radio, and served on the board of Research to Prevent Blindness for 15 years.
Sheinberg married actress Lorraine Gary in 1956, producing sons Bill and Jon.