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R.I.P. legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans

Photo: Jennifer Lourie/FilmMagic (Getty Images)

Variety reports that Robert Evans, longtime Hollywood movie producer of films like The Godfather and Chinatown and one-time head of Paramount Pictures, has died. He was 89.

Evans’ long and storied past is familiar to movie fans thanks to his memoir and subsequent film The Kid Stays In The Picture. In it, Evans outlines how he made his movie debut by portraying young movie producer wunderkind Irving Thalberg in the Lon Chaney documentary Man Of A Thousand Faces after being spotted by Thalberg’s widow, Norma Shearer. He moved on to a few small roles in major Hollywood productions, playing a matador in The Sun Also Rises and an unscrupulous playboy in The Best Of Everything.

He then switched to producing (as he put it in his memoir, “I realized I had to own something that nobody else could get”), and became head of Paramount Pictures in 1967, when he was still only in his 30s. He led the struggling studio to an impressive award-winning age with films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Chinatown, and The Godfather Part II.

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But Evans’ offscreen life was also as drama-filled as any blockbuster. He was married seven times, including Ali McGraw at the height of her Love Story fame, resulting in his only son, movie producer Josh Evans (She left Evans for her The Getaway co-star Steve McQueen). He was also married to former Miss America Phyllis George, and Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg for less than two weeks.

After that impressive cinematic streak in the ’70s, Variety notes that “drug dependency and the studios’ changing corporate culture plagued Evans’ later career.” He was arrested in 1980 on charges related to cocaine, and was a material witness in the execution-style killing of Roy Radin on the set of his bomb The Cotton Club. Evans was never proved to be associated with the killing, but the damage to his reputation had been done. His spotty box-office record didn’t help; his subsequent films included unsuccessful Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes, as well as the poorly received Sliver, Jade, and The Saint.

The unsinkable Evans released a well-received memoir in 1994. In The Kid Stays In The Picture, Evans is charmingly self-deprecating as he tells the fascinating inside stories from his decades in the movie industry, with anecdotes featuring stars from Errol Flynn to Jack Nicholson. The book became so popular it was made into a film in 2002 with Evans’ own narration, winning Best Documentary at local film festivals like Boston Society Of Film Critics, Seattle Film Critics, and Chicago Film Critics Association.

Evans’ singular persona that was so perfectly depicted in the film—deeply tanned face, oversized sunglasses, and big, booming voice—made him ripe for parody. Dustin Hoffman played an uncredited version of Evans in the Barry Levinson film Wag The Dog (said Evans, “I was magnificent in that movie!”). Mr. Show and Documentary Now! also offered send-ups of the uber-producer. Evans then crafted his persona into an animated series called Kid Notorious in 2003.

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Evans had suffered a series of strokes in 1998. Earlier this year, it was announced that he and Paramount were finally parting ways after 52 years. Evans’ final tweet, a response to the story, almost perfectly sums up the Hollywood legend:

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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.