Winning one best-picture Academy Award is difficult–winning three in three different decades is downright astonishing. But music executive-turned-movie producer Saul Zaentz did just that, earning three Oscars over a long albeit unconventional career.
The 92-year-old died due to complications stemming from Alzheimer’s disease at his home in San Francisco on January 3, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Zaentz only began making movies in his 50s, after he had already made his fortune in the music business, according to the New York Times. Despite his multiple Oscars, the well-respected producer made only nine films between 1975 and 2007, but top hits “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), “Amadeus” (1984), and “The English Patient” (1996) garnered a whopping 22 Oscars between them, notes the Times.
One of five siblings, Zaentz was born in 1921 in Passaic, NJ. His parents, Morris and Goldie Zaentz, were Jewish refugees from eastern Poland. As a teenager, Zaentz ran way to travel the country, selling peanuts at ball games, hitchhiking and finally enlisting in the Army during World War II.
After the war, Zaentz turned to the world of jazz, working for such musical legends as Duke Ellington as an employee of jazz producer Norman Granz, reports Variety. Eventually, Zaentz began to gain influence in the music industry, catching his first big break after signing a group called the Golliwogs–soon to be rechristened Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Famously litigious, Zaentz angered some over his career, including Creedence’s lead singer John Fogerty. In fact, after successfully suing Fogerty over the rights to the band’s catalog, Fogerty penned several retaliatory songs including “Mr. Greed” and “Zanz Kant Danz.”
Eventually tiring of the music business, Zaenz turned his attention to film in the 70s, where he gained a reputation for “taking chances on relatively untested filmmakers,” according to the Associated Press.
“Zaentz was a throwback to old Hollywood,” the AP wrote. “A producer who cared tremendously about his films and would go to extremes to get them right, often putting his own money up to help finance them.”
In 1997, Zaentz’s “The English Patient” won nine Oscars and Zaentz himself was honored with the Irving G. Thalberg Award, a lifetime-achievement award.
“My cup is full,” Zaentz said as he accepted the honor, according to the AP. A little while later, as he got up to accept “The English Patient’s” Oscar for best picture, Zaentz added, “Now it runneth over.”
Zaentz is survived by his nephew, four children — Athena, Jonathan, Joshua and Dorian — and seven grandchildren.