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Saul Zaentz, the legendary producer behind three Best Picture Oscar winning films, has died at age 92. Zaentz, who launched his career in the music business, is best known for producing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus.
Zaentz’s death was first reported by Indiewire, which confirmed that he died in the Bay Area. Later, his nephew, Paul Zaentz, confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter. He died following a battle with Alzheimer’s.
“He was an extraordinary man,” Paul Zaentz said. “He had a lot of guts, a lot of integrity.”
Zaentz’s career in show business began when he joined Fantasy Records in 1955. The label soon became the largest jazz label in the world, but is best known today as the home of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Zaentz had a combative relationship with frontman John Fogerty, who wrote the 1985 song “Zanz Kant Danz” about him. Zaentz sued, calling the lyrics defamatory and Fogerty changed the title to “Vanz.”
In another legal battle with Fogerty, Zaentz claimed that his 1985 hit single “Old Man Down The Road” had a chorus that sounded just like CCR’s “Run Through The Jungle.” Fogerty ended up testifying in court to prove that he didn’t plagiarize his own previous hit single.
Despite that, Zaentz went on to have one of the most successful careers as a producer in Hollywood. His first film was the incredible One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Milos Forman and starring Jack Nicholson. The 1975 movie swept the top five categories at the Oscars.
He worked with Forman again on Amadeus, which won the Best Picture of 1985. In 1996, he produced Anthony Minghella's The English Patient, which also won Best Picture. His other credits include 1988’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings and his final film, 2006’s Goya’s Ghosts.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences also gave Zaentz its Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1997.
Zaentz was a New Jersey native, born on Feb. 28, 1921 in Passaic. When he was 15, he ran away to St. Louis and did serve in the Army in World War II. He is survived by four children and seven grandchildren.