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Arnold Kopelson, Oscar-Winning Producer of ‘Platoon’ and ‘The Fugitive,’ Dies at 83

Arnold Kopelson, the Oscar-winning producer of such films as “Platoon” and “The Fugitive,” died Monday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 83.

Kopelson’s death was confirmed Monday his wife and business partner of 42 years, Anne Kopelson.

Anne Kopelson said her husband was a consummate producer who dedicated himself wholeheartedly to every film he produced over his long career.

“He loved what he did,” Kopelson told Variety. “He loved dealing with people in making movies and he had a very, very big heart.”

Kopelson had a prolific career in the film business from the 1970s through the early 2000s. From 2007 until September, Kopelson served as a board member of CBS Corp. He became close friends with CBS controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone and was a strong supporter of former CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves.

“Arnold was a man of exceptional talent whose legacy will long survive him.  He also, of course, was a highly dedicated CBS board member for more than 10 years,” CBS said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to Anne and his family.”

Kopelson became wrapped up in the legal battle, now settled, between CBS and Shari Redstone earlier this year when a recent video of Sumner Redstone taken by Kopelson was introduced into the court to support CBS’ claim that Sumner Redstone was no longer capable of making his own decisions.

After attending New York University and earning a law degree, Kopelson started his career as lawyer focusing on entertainment clients before moving into film and television sales. With his future wife, Anne, he founded Inter-Ocean Film Sales in 1972 and became one of the first to specialize in funding independent films based on foreign pre-sales. He was a founding member of the American Film Marketing Assn., which launched the American Film Market. He was well regarded as having the rare combination of business acumen and a strong sense of creative material.

He moved into producing with films with indies such as 1981’s “Porky’s,” one of the most profitable films ever.

Kopelson shepherded notable films of the 1980s and 1990s including Oliver Stone’s best picture winner “Platoon,” “Falling Down,” “The Fugitive” and “Se7en.”

“Platoon” grossed nearly $140 million in the U.S. and also won best director for Stone and two additional Oscars.

A typically low-budget Kopelson affair, Oliver Stone’s passionate semiautobiographical morality tale about an Army platoon splintering between two warring commanding officers (Willem Defoe and Tom Berenger) in the midst of the Vietnam War went on to gross nearly $140 million at the box office and sweep the Oscars, including a Best Picture win for Kopelson.

After he won the Oscar for “Platoon,” Kopelson used his clout to secure financing for 1989’s “Triumph of the Spirit,” a Holocaust drama about a boxer, played by Willem Defoe, sent with his family to the Auschwitz concentration camp but still forced to compete for the Nazis. “Spirit” became the first movie shot entirely on the grounds of the Auschwitz camp in Poland.

“He worked hard to make people understand that movies can meaningful,” Anne Kopelson said. “They can have a purpose and they can be entertaining. His body of work expressed that on many levels.”

Kopelson was proud of the long road he took to bringing “Fugitive” to the screen in 1993 after many stops and starts, and screenwriters and stars attached to the project that went on to land an Oscar nomination for best picture.

He served for many years on the Executive Committee of the Producer’s Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was a member of the Board of Mentors of the Peter Stark Motion Picture Producer’s Program at the University of Southern California. 

Survivors include his wife and business partner of 42 years, Anne Kopelson and three children, Peter, Evan and Stephanie.

Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, October 10 at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, CA  90068 at 12:30 p.m. A Memorial will also take place at a later date.

Donations may be made to Cedars-Sinai.

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