If it seems like just the other day that Tom Sherak was in the headlines for happier reasons, that’s because it pretty much was. Only last autumn, the former 20th Century Fox chief was named by Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti as the city’s senior film advisor, or “film czar.” And that appointment came with his presidency of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still a very fresh memory: he stepped down from the position in 2012. He was a hard worker — all the more so when you consider that he had been battling prostate cancer for the last 12 years. Sadly, the fight ended yesterday; Sherak passed away at his California home aged 68.
Sherak’s Hollywood career was a storied one. Beginning his career in the distribution arm of Paramount, he went on enjoy a 17-year tenure at Fox — three of them as their head of US distribution. There, he supervised the release of such blockbusters as “Aliens,” “Die Hard,” “Home Alone” and “Independence Day.” He left in 2000 to found the production company Revolution Studios, which produced over 30 films, including “Black Hawk Down,” “13 Going on 30” and “Hellboy,” before folding in 2007.
It was for his three-year stint as the Academy president, however, that he’ll be best remembered in these parts — not least because he steered the Oscars through one of their most topsy-turvy periods. Having taken the post in 2009, it was Sherak who was holding the reins in the year of the big, still-contentious switch to 10 Best Picture nominees, and Sherak again who oversaw the adjustment to the more elastic 5-to-10 nomination system. He also drove the Academy’s move toward electronic voting, and was a major dealmaker in plans for the Academy’s forthcoming film museum.
Somewhat denting his presidency, however, were the ill-conceived Oscar ceremonies that took place under his watch. 2011’s Anne Hathaway-James Franco fiasco was perceived by many as an all-time low for the institution, and the collapse the following year of Sherak’s planned Brett Ratner-Eddie Murphy show resulted in nearly as many red faces in the Academy, even if Billy Crystal came to the rescue late in the day.
Still, Sherak will be remembered as an Academy president who took bold chances, even if they didn’t all come off. Current Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs had this to say: “In the more than 30 years I’ve known Tom, his passionate support of and excitement about the motion picture business, the Academy, his family and friends never wavered. He was truly larger than life, and he will be missed.”