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Former movie executive Sidney Sheinberg (1935-2019)


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Sidney Sheinberg, the former MCA/Universal Pictures executive and an early mentor to filmmaker Steven Spielberg, died Thursday at the age of 84. He was an influential figure at the studio for 40 years.

A graduate of Columbia Law School, Sheinberg went West in 1958 and became a law instructor at UCLA. He later joined the legal department of Revue Productions, which eventually became Universal Television. He became president of the TV division in 1971. Two years later, when the influential Lew Wasserman became chairman and CEO of MCA/Universal, Sheinberg was selected president and chief operating officer.

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Sheinberg became a Spielberg fan in the late 1960s when he was the head of Universal Television. He saw the young director's college short film "Amblin'" (which inspired the name of Spielberg's production company). "I thought it was special because I’d been seeing a lot stuff that was very technical; you know, all white and like 'Tron',” Sheinberg told The Hollywood Reporter in 2010. "But this was a human story."

He signed the 20-year-old Spielberg to a seven-year contract at $300 a week to make Universal TV shows. The director filmed numerous episodes of the company's television series, including the 1969 pilot for "Night Gallery" (which featured Joan Crawford). He also directed episodes of "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "The Name of the Game" and "Columbo," among others.

Spielberg's acclaimed 90-minute drama "Duel" -- based on a short story by Richard Matheson -- was a Unversal production that aired on ABC's The Movie of the Week on November 13, 1971.

Many of Spielberg's early feature films -- including  "The Sugarland Express" (1974), "Jaws" (1975), "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1983), "Jurassic Park" (1993) and "Schindler's List" (1993) -- were Universal productions. "Jaws," "E.T." and "Jurassic Park" were the highest-grossing films, respectively, of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Spielberg issued a statement after Sheinberg's death: "My heart is broken at the news. For now let me just say that Sid had a big personality and a tender heart. He was the tallest, most stand-up guy I ever knew. He gave birth to my career and made Universal my home. He gave me 'Jaws,' I gave him 'E.T.,' and he gave me 'Schindler's List.' We were a team for 25 years, and he was my dear friend for 50. I have no concept about how to accept that Sid is gone. For the rest of my life I will owe him more than I can express." 

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Sheinberg was married for 62 years to the actress Lorraine Gary, who starred in "Jaws" and two of its sequels: "Jaws 2" and "Jaws: The Revenge." Their sons Bill Sheinberg and Jonathan Sheinberg are both film producers.

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