Robert Evans Dies: ‘Chinatown’ Producer Who Ran Paramount During ‘Godfather’ Years Was 89

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Robert Evans, the colorful, Oscar-nominated Chinatown producer and former Paramount Pictures production chief during the late 1960s and ’70s, has died at age 89, a source has confirmed to Deadline. Evans passed away at his Los Angeles home after suffering a series of strokes in recent months.

Evans began at Paramount in 1967 at age 36, the youngest studio production boss at the time. During his tenure he revitalized 1970s cinema with such blockbusters as The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II and Love Story and as a producer of such classics as Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby. 

Earlier this year, Paramount announced that it would dedicate the Robert Evans Screening Room in the Redstone Building on the studio’s lot.

The studio released a statement Monday acknowledging the passing of a signature figure from its storied history.

“Hollywood has lost one of its most influential and iconic figures in the inimitable Bob Evans. He was a valued and beloved partner to Paramount Pictures for over half a century, and his contributions to our organization and the entertainment industry are innumerable and far-reaching. As an actor, a producer and a leader, he has left an indelible mark on our studio and the world of film. His influence will be felt for generations to come. We extend our deepest condolences to his loved ones.”

Evans earned a Best Picture Oscar nom for producing 1974’s Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston. The film was inducted into the Producers Guild of America’s Hall of Fame, Motion Pictures, in 2003, and Evans accepted the PGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

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In 1994, Evans published his autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture (which would share its name with the much-celebrated 2002 documentary). Evans attributed the title to a line by legendary studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck. The mogul was rebuking a cast contingent from The Sun Also Rises who suggested jettisoning Evans from the 1957 adaptation of the Hemingway classic.

Among the topics addressed in the book: Evans’ career path from actor to Paramount production chief and, later, independent producer; his personal life (including his marriage to actress Ali MacGraw); his battles with cocaine and his party escapades (his favorite drink: a “Bloody Bull,” tomato juice, beef bullion, lemon juice, and vodka).

Born Robert Shapera on June 29, 1930, in New York City, Evans was still in elementary school when he set his mind to becoming an actor like his heroes James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. Those idols were screen stars but in that era radio presented the fastest route to the biggest audience. At age 12, after a few months of auditions, the youngster landed the unlikely role of a Nazi colonel for a production of Radio Mystery Theater. The roles didn’t stop there.

The screen version from Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen ditched most of the personal stuff, and, with narration by Evans, relied instead on his charisma as well as the glamour and poignancy of photos and footage from Love Story, The Sun Also Rises, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Godfather, etc. The film received good reviews, and holds a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. Within the industry, however, the movie and book both sit on a sacred shelf (and right next to William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade) and it’s become mandatory reading for recent generations of Hollywood aspirants and admirers.

In background, persona, and appearance, Evans fit the bill for “living symbol of old Hollywood” and his public perception (like Hugh Hefner or Stan Lee) toggled back and forth from revered elder icon and throwback caricature. The self-aware Evans provided the voice-over and executive produced his own Comedy Central animated series, 2003’s Kid Notorious, which was a parody of his life that, once again, kept him in the picture.

The Hollywood icon was clearly an optimist: Evans married seven times. But his optimism had its limits. None of his marriages endured beyond three years. His brides included McGraw (the third marriage, 1968-1973) and Phyllis George, the sportscaster and a former Miss Texas (the fourth marriage, 1977-1978). His union with former Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg (the fifth marriage, 1998) was the shortest, ending in annulment after nine days. .

Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.

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