Oscar-winning producer Walter Mirisch, a former head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences “In the Heat of the Night,” died Feb. 24 in Los Angeles of natural causes. He was 101.
Mirisch’s death was confirmed by a statement released by the Motion Picture Academy on Saturday. “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is deeply saddened to hear of Walter’s passing,” Academy CEO Bill Kramer and Academy President Janet Yang said in the statement.
“Walter was a true visionary, both as a producer and as an industry leader. He had a powerful impact on the film community and the Academy, serving as our President and as an Academy governor for many years. His passion for filmmaking and the Academy never wavered, and he remained a dear friend and advisor. We send our love and support to his family during this difficult time.”
Mirisch was one of Hollywood’s most respected and influential producers in the middle of the 20th century. He established The Mirisch Corporation in 1957 alongside his brothers Harold and Marvin.
The banner was tied to such classics as “Some Like It Hot” (1959), “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), “The Great Escape” (1963), “The Pink Panther” (1963) and “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968). The Mirisch Company was also a producer on three best picture winners — “The Apartment” (1960), “West Side Story” (1961) and “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), for which Mirisch received the Academy Award for best picture.
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The Academy honored Mirisch twice more over the course of his towering career, which spanned more than six decades. In 1978, he received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, commemorating his “consistently high quality of motion picture production.” In 1983, Mirisch was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his “humanitarian efforts [that] have brought credit to the industry.”
From 1973 to 1977, Mirisch presided over the Academy four times. He also served as a governor for the organization for fifteen years. He played a key role in the institution’s decision to establish a new headquarters in Beverly Hills. Mirisch was mentioned by Steven Spielberg as a beloved friend and mentor over the years.
“Walter cut a gigantic figure in the film industry and his movies were trailblazing classics that covered every genre, while never failing to entertain audiences around the world,” Spielberg said in a statement. “He achieved so much in life and in the industry — if you live to be 101 and produced ‘The Apartment,’ I’d say it’s been a good run.”
Spielberg called him “both a gentleman and an ardent advocate of good films” and noted that he supported “multiple generations of dedicated filmmakers.”
Moreover, “he knew a good story when he found one, and fought tooth and nail to get it on the screen,” Spielberg said. “He loved the Academy as much as anyone in our history… I cherished our lunches in the Universal commissary over the years and he was as generous with his advice as he was with his friendship. I’m both a better director and a better person for having known Walter.”
Mirisch was born in New York in 1921. He completed his World War II employment at a bomber plane manufacturing before enrolling in classes at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Harvard Business School. Up to her passing in 2005, he was married for 60 years to Patricia Mirisch.
At the Producers Guild of America, the Los Angeles Music Center, the Motion Picture and Television Foundation, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and UCLA, Mirisch also held executive positions.
Sons Andrew and Lawrence, daughter Anne, granddaughter, and two great-grandsons survive Mirisch. The Mirisch family desires that memorial contributions be sent to the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Mirisch’s honour.