Robert Evans, the former Paramount studio chief who oversaw the production of such Hollywood classics as “Chinatown,” “The Godfather” and “Love Story” and whose colorful life was the subject of a documentary film, has died at the age of 89, it was announced Monday.
Evans’ death was announced by his publicist, who gave no further details.
Evans was installed as head of production at then-faltering Paramount in 1967, when he was 36 years old. Films that he helped shepherd to the big screen included “The Odd Couple,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Goodbye, Columbus,” “True Grit,” “The Italian Job,” “Harold and Maude” and “Lady Sings the Blues.”
In 1980, Evans pleaded guilty to a cocaine charge and over the next dozen years, produced only two films: “The Cotton Club” and the Chinatown sequel “The Two Jakes.”
Evans was named in a scandal involving the murder of aspiring Hollywood player Roy Radin during the production of “The Cotton Club.” Evans became a material witness in the case, although he had no connection to the murder.
Evans’ flamboyant personality, distinctive speaking style and look — perpetual tan, oversize glasses — became fodder for Dustin Hoffman’s producer character in the 1997 parody “Wag the Dog.” Rob Ryan, a recurring character in the HBO series “Entourage” was said to be inspired by Evans.
In 1994, Evans published a bestselling memoir, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” which became the basis for the 2002 documentary on his life. The title reportedly comes from a line attributed to studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, who was defending then-actor Evans after some of the cast of the 1957 film “The Sun Also Rises” had urged that he be removed from the movie.
Born Robert Shapera in New York, Evans had worked on more than 300 radio shows and the occasional TV show and plays by the time he was 18. In the oft-told story, he was “discovered” poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel by actress Norma Shearer, who asked him to play her deceased husband, MGM exec Irving Thalberg, in the 1957 film “Man of a Thousand Faces,” a biopic of horror actor Lon Chaney.
The former actor and women’s fashion company co-owner married seven times, but none of the unions lasted more than three years. His former wives included Ali MacGraw, who became a star with her performances in “Goodbye, Columbus” and “Love Story,” former Miss America Phyllis George; and actresses Catherine Oxenberg and Leslie Ann Woodward.
McGraw, the mother of Evans’ only child, released a statement, saying, “Our son, Joshua, and I will miss Bob tremendously, and we are so very proud of his enormous contribution to the film Industry. He will be remembered as a giant.”
Director Francis Ford Coppola said in a statement that he would remember Evans’ “charm, good looks, enthusiasm, style and sense of humor.”
“He had strong instincts as evidenced by the long list of great films in his career,” the filmmaker said. “When I worked with Bob, some of his helpful ideas included suggesting John Marley as Woltz and Sterling Hayden as the Police Captain, and his ultimate realization that `The Godfather’ could be 2 hours and 45 minutes in length; also, making a movie out of `The Cotton Club’ — casting Richard Gere and Gregory Hines, and bringing Milena Canonero, George Faison, Richard Sylbert, and many other talented people to work on the film. May the kid always stay in the picture.”
“Chinatown” writer Robert Towne said of working with Evans: “When push came to shove, he didn’t care about the publicity or the deadline or anything. `Fuck it. I just want it to be good.’ It was said with such feeling. And it coincided with what I wanted too. He was wonderful and infuriating and I loved him very much.”
Funeral information was not immediately available.