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Bill Sargent

Producer, entrepreneur

H. William “Bill” Sargent, producer and entrepreneur, died Oct. 19 of a heart attack in Caddo, Okla. He was 76. Sargent pioneered the use of pay-per-view and videotaping live events for theatrical release.

In the early 1960s, he established Home Entertainment Co. (H.E.C.) in Los Angeles, which broadcast a closed-circuit Cassius Clay boxing match to theaters around the country and thus launched a forerunner of pay-per-view.

After selling H.EC., he founded Electronovision with the forward-thinking idea of videotaping live events and distributing them in theaters. Although the still-nascent videotape technology was barely up to the challenge, Electronovision’s first release, “Hamlet” starring Richard Burton, was released on more than 1,000 screens and grossed $3 million.

In 1964, Sargent produced the first filmed rock concert, “The T.A.M.I. Show,” which featured the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, James Brown, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry and Marvin Gaye. He also produced a filmed version of the play “Stop the World! I Want to Get Off” and “Harlow,” a biopic of Jean Harlow starring Carol Lynley.

An avid electronics experimenter and ham radio operator, Sargent held some 400 patents on tape heads, camera components and other equipment.

His ambitious but often-unrealized schemes included a benefit rock concert called “Stop the War!” with Warren Beatty and producer Frank Mankiewicz, canceled due to pressure from Richard Nixon’s White House; and a proposed closed-circuit fight between a man and a great white shark, stopped by the United Nations. He also tried to turn the Super Bowl into a closed-circuit theatrical event, but the NFL pulled out even as the House of Representatives was looking into prohibiting the deal.

Moving to Salt Lake City, Sargent converted a former Mormon church into a state-of-the-art recording studio. Jack Nitzche used the studio to record a portion of his Oscar-nominated score for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Other musicians who recorded at the studio included America, Billy Joel and the Doobie Brothers.

In 1975, Sargent formed Theatrovision and produced the one-man show “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” based on the life of President Harry S. Truman. Taped in front of a live audience, pic grossed $15 million-plus and netted James Whitmore an Oscar best actor nom. Sargent’s biggest film hit was 1979’s “Richard Pryor Live in Concert.”

He invested in numerous Broadway productions, including “Beatlemania,” and remounted “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off” with Sammy Davis Jr.

Sargent is survived by his wife, Helen, two sisters, a brother, two daughters and three sons. Private services are planned in his hometown of Caddo. Donations may be made to the Bill Sargent Scholarship at USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program.

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