Acclaimed film producer and cancer activist Laura Ziskin died Sunday evening at her home in Santa Monica at the age of 61. Ziskin, who lived with breast cancer for seven years, is survived by her husband, screenwriter Alvin Sargent, with whom she frequently collaborated; daughter, producer Julia Barry, and son-in-law, writer Eli Dansky.Ziskin had a trail-blazing career as a producer and studio executive for 35 years. After her cancer diagnosis, Ziskin embraced an additional, unsought role as a cancer activist, joining with other women in the entertainment and media businesses to co-found Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). The group marshals the entertainment industry’s resources to engage the public in supporting a new approach to cancer research geared toward getting new therapies to patients quickly.
Earlier this year, Ziskin was awarded The Producers Guild of America’s Visionary Award for her work as a film producer and her humanitarian efforts in the fight against cancer. Speaking of herself and the other SU2C co-founders, Ziskin said, “We realized we had the potential to make cancer the first-tier issue it needs to be and to impact how cancer is treated by using our skills as producers and quite literally ‘putting on a show.’ Stand Up To Cancer is my most important production and I am so touched and proud that the PGA is honoring us for it.”
In late 2007, ABC, CBS and NBC committed to donating an hour of time for the first-ever “roadblock” televised fundraising event to proactively combat a major public health threat. Ziskin was executive producer of the initial, historic Stand Up To Cancer telecast in September of 2008, as well as a follow-up one in September, 2010, that aired on those three broadcast networks, FOX, and 13 cable providers. The shows, which featured hundreds of film and TV stars, recording artists, news anchors and sports personalities, were seen in 175 countries.
Donors of every type joined the movement, ranging from individuals all over the country to organizations like Major League Baseball, philanthropists such as Sidney Kimmel, and corporations from an array of industries. Largely in connection with these two televised specials, $180 million has been pledged to support groundbreaking “translational” cancer research designed to move developments from the laboratory phase to new treatments that will benefit people battling cancer in record time. One of Stand Up To Cancer’s key goals is to foster increased collaboration among cancer researchers at different institutions. Currently, 355 scientists from 55 institutions collaborate, interact and share information through SU2C.
“Laura was the heart and soul of Stand Up To Cancer,” said SU2C co-founder Sherry Lansing. “She dreamed big, and attacked every challenge with creativity, passion, perseverance and intelligence.” Added SU2C co-founder Katie Couric, “Laura was one of the most courageous people I’ve ever known. Her fearlessness in the face of this relentless killer inspires everyone on the SU2C team to redouble our efforts to make cancer history.”
As a Film producer, in March, 2002, Ziskin became the first woman to solo executive produce the Academy Awards. She held that position again for the 2007 broadcast, instituting the first-ever “Green” Oscars ceremony. The two shows garnered a total of 17 Emmy nominations.
The first of what will be four Spider-Man films for which Ziskin had a producing role hit theaters in 2002. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 have grossed more than $1.5 billion, and Spider-Man 3 broke box office records worldwide to become the highest-grossing film in Sony’s history. At the time of her death, Ziskin and her partner in Laura Ziskin Productions, Pamela Oas Williams, were at work on the fourth installment of the series.
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