Former Paramount CEO Brad Grey Dies at 59

Brad Grey Farewell Letter
Erik Pendzich/REX/Shutterstock

Brad Grey, the former Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO, died on Sunday night of cancer. He was 59.

In addition to running Paramount for 12 years, Grey helped transform Brillstein-Grey Entertainment into one of Hollywood’s most successful management and production companies, playing a key role in the development of “The Sopranos” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” He also co-founded Plan B Entertainment with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, through which he produced the Oscar-winning “The Departed.”

Grey was forced out at Paramount in February in the wake of several film flops and some $450 million in annual losses at the studio.


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Grey, a shrewd operator who alternately stroked and clashed with Hollywood’s key power brokers, had a tumultuous tenure at Paramount. He was credited with maintaining strong relationships with Pitt and Martin Scorsese, as well as overseeing the successful “Transformers” and “Mission: Impossible” series. However, he was faulted for failing to turn Paramount into a destination for top talent and for being unable to replenish its lineup of film franchises. As Grey and his team struggled to keep reinvigorate their lineup, Paramount’s market share plummeted, and the company finished behind all of the five other major Hollywood studios in each of the last five calendar years.

His time at the top coincided with a bruising power struggle at its corporate parent Viacom that pitted former chairman Philippe Dauman, a key ally of Grey’s, against Shari Redstone, whose family holds a controlling stake in the media conglomerate. The fight was triggered, in large part, by the failing health of Sumner Redstone, the 93-year old Viacom founder whose personal issues caused a leadership crisis. Shari Redstone prevailed against Dauman. Grey was able to keep his job for nearly seven more months, but was ultimately unable to convince the studio that he had the right vision to move Paramount forward. Viacom tapped Jim Gianopulos, the former head of Fox’s film business, to take over from Grey.

The Bronx-born Grey first broke into the entertainment business while a student at the University at Buffalo, where he became connected with Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein. He helped Weinstein with his concert promotion business. From there, Grey moved into the world of stand-up comedy, helping discover Bob Saget and forming a partnership with Bernie Brillstein, whose Bernie Brillstein Company would eventually become Brillstein-Grey Entertainment.

Of all the professional associations, none would be more important to Grey than the one he forged with Garry Shandling. Grey produced Shandling’s Showtime hit “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and HBO’s beloved “The Larry Sanders Show,” helping to elevate the comic’s profile. But the two had an epic falling out in the late 1990s, with Shandling suing Grey for $100 million for breach of duties. He claimed that Grey had inappropriately enriched himself by taking fees on “The Larry Sanders Show” from Shandling and from HBO. Grey counter-sued for breach of contract. Their feud split the entertainment industry into factions, with the likes of Warren Beatty and former agent Sue Mengers trying to broker a peace. Both suits were eventually settled. Shandling died of from pulmonary thrombosis in 2016 at the age of 66.

In public, Grey could come across as retiring, almost shy, but that masked a keen survival instinct and a willingness to go to the mat. During his time at Paramount, Grey also clashed with Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. After helping orchestrate a 2005 deal that saw Paramount buy DreamWorks for $1.6 billion in cash and debt, only to see the alliance collapse under the strain of competing ambitions and egos. DreamWorks ended up striking out on its own in 2008.

For seven years, Paramount distributed films from DreamWorks Animation, the spinoff then overseen by Katzenberg. The companies scored with the first two “Kung Fu Panda” movies and “How to Train Your Dragon,” but Paramount was unable to keep the deal, which went to Fox in 2012. Paramount started an animation division in 2011 to help fill the void.

Grey became entangled in a controversy that threatened to torpedo his time at Paramount shortly after he took the reins at the studio. He was named twice in lawsuits by screenwriter Bo Zenga over a claimed agreement to produce 2000’s “Scary Movie,” with Zenga charging that Grey used celebrity detective Anthony Pellicano wiretap Zenga during the negotiations. Grey had denied knowledge of wiretapping and both suits were dismissed, due to statute of limitations issues.

Grey is survived by his wife Cassandra Grey, their son Jules, his three grown children Sam, Max and Emily from his marriage to Jill (nee Gutterson) Grey, his mother Barbara Schumsky, his brother Michael Grey and his sister Robin Grey.

Grey’s family said there will be a small private funeral service later this week. A memorial service will be scheduled in the coming weeks. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the reason that the Zenga suits were dismissed. 

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  4. Jan Vones says:

    Hollywood eats up and spits out its own. Drugs, sex scandals. office politics at volume 11. You have to wonder about the ones who survive, are they vampires?

  5. Jonah Jhee says:

    As they “struggled to keep reinvigorate their line-up” …

    … Whoah. Glad the real writing experts are on the scene, covering these paradigm shifts in the world of producers.

    Attention-to-detail is so crucial in Hollywood.

  6. Steve says:

    That’s true of all of us.

  7. David says:

    “Grey was forced out at Paramount in February in the wake of several film flops”

    No, he left because he was dying. Nice of Variety to think these things through?

    • Jane Smith says:

      No he was forced out in the struggle with Shari Redstone. He was already on shaky ground due to backing Brad Pitt’s Plan B almost 100% & giving Pitt an office on the Paramount lot. Pitt’s Plan B does horribly at the BO.

  8. JackBootedThug says:

    “Grey, a shrewd operator…” Yet, he was losing $450 million a year. What am I missing?

  9. Nigel Nerdom says:

    Free copyediting: “As Grey and his team struggled to keep reinvigorate…” either lose “keep” or it should be: “reinvigorating”

  10. bkbeach4x4 says:

    God Bless the Grey family and those who suffer from the loss of a creative genius that was able to bring entertainment to the busy lives we all share in this modern world of information overload.
    Thank you and wings of angels to your reward.

  11. Miranda Smith says:

    I would never wish bad things to happen to anyone except for evil people. On the other hand he was an untalented disgusting person without any scruples or moral character.

  12. Shalom Alexhem says:

    Why don’t you find out the name of the guy who replaced him at Paramount to see what a bigoted piece of crap you are.

  13. depressionbaby says:

    It must be only in Hollywood that you can be “shrewd” and lose $450 Million Dollars a year.

  14. Doug Day says:

    Fired in February and dead by May…RIP.

  15. Jh Handey says:

    God rest his soul, sad sad news…

  16. aggressively redundant says:

    Sometimes I really wonder who the hell posts in these things.

  17. Diane says:

    You’re right..

  18. Diane says:

    One of the best movies is The Departed seen it on Thanksgiving Day. Great movie I hope his family is well death is the ultimate equalizer.
    Sorry for their loss so young.

  19. Rex says:

    Unless you have intimate knowledge of the state of the souls of all “Hollywood types” (which you don’t), don’t condemn all for the sins of the many. There are a few good “Hollywood types” like Tim Allen and Robert Duvall.

  20. Brad was a great guy, a brilliant exec, my condolences to his family. Taken way too young. RIP BG

  21. Susan says:

    Cancer from STRESS.

    A sick business that claims folks young. It literally eats them from the inside out.

  22. chrissypoo says:

    That high-stress talent manager, studio executive and agent lifestyle is killing them young. You don’t even have the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. When you are in those jobs, you are never really on a vacation.

  23. Guy Joubert says:

    Reread the very 1st sentence in the story. Hint hint: the 15th word in is the “C” word..

  24. human2 says:

    Wow! Another very young one. RIP.

  25. kent marley says:

    He was a class act. Deepest sympathy for this family.

  26. Bas says:

    OMG.. May His Soul Rest In Peace.

  27. It’s “Aniston,” not “Anniston.”

  28. tre says:

    if a man of his wealth and access can’t beat cancer what chance is there for the poor nobodies?

    • Toronto Reader says:

      It’s the luck of the draw. Compared to the show biz elite, I am what you would term a “poor nobody”. But thanks to first-rate doctors, state-of-the-art technology…and universal health care here in Ontario, I survived Stage 4 lymphoma. 12 years later, I am still cancer free. Early diagnosis is imperative. Please give generously to your local cancer organizations.

      • carol brunswick says:

        now come on reader… i know that’s not the whole story… don’t even think of pushing universal crappy healthcare nonsense here….

      • Jamesben says:

        Please with the “universal healthcare” nonsense. When wealth (and not so wealthy) stop “healthcare tourism” to the USA, then you can pimp your socialism.

        Oh, and start paying your full NATO bills. Leech.

    • George Lewis says:

      Patients & their cases (especially how early discovered & the treatment choices they chose) are unique. There is significant hope nowadays especially for people with private or Medicare (& non HMO) insurance.

      • mary podlesak says:

        Eat Garlic, eat it raw, eat it often. It’s Anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic. Avoid simple sugars, they feed an infection.

      • Spider says:

        Yes, early detection is key. Significant hope ALSO extends to those on Medicare and Medicare-eligible folks that have BOTH PPO and HMO’s, as well. HMO’s are NOT a detriment to health care as people make it seem and they do provide coverage beyond what Medicare offers with low co-pays, low deductibles and even lower out-of-pocket costs. **The key to a good HMO rests on choosing the plan in which your primary care physician is part of the network.** ….Also, those on Obamacare may have significant benefits (depending on what type of plan).

  29. Brian O'Loughlin says:

    Is his brother Michael Grey of T.V.’s Shazzam as seen on Archer?

  30. Steve says:

    Go back to whatever cyber-rock you crawled out from under.

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