Walter Mirisch, Former Academy President and ‘In the Heat of the Night’ Producer, Dies at 101

Walter Mirisch, a former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and an Oscar-winning producer for “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.

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“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.”

In the mid-20th century, Mirisch was one of the most lauded and powerful producers in Hollywood. In 1957, he founded The Mirisch Company with 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.

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.”

Mirisch served four terms as president of the Academy, from 1973 to 1977, as well as 15 years as an Academy governor. He was an instrumental figure in the institution forming a new headquarters in Beverly Hills.

Steven Spielberg cited Mirisch as a treasured friend and advisor 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.”

Born in 1921 in New York, Mirisch worked at a bomber plane manufacturer during World War II before studying at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Harvard Business School. He was married to wife Patricia Mirisch for 60 years until her death in 2005.

Mirisch also held leadership roles at the Producers Guild of America, the Los Angeles Music Center, the Motion Picture and Television Fund, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA.

Mirisch is survived by a daughter, Anne; sons Andrew and Lawrence; a granddaughter and two great-grandsons. The family requests that donations be made in Mirisch’s name to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

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