British music and film producer Nik Powell, who was among the Virgin Group co-founders with Richard Branson and became an influential force in U.K. cinema, producing more than 60 titles including Neil Jordan’s Oscar-winning “The Crying Game,” died Thursday at age 69.
The cause of death was an unspecified form of cancer, Britain’s National Film and Television School (NFTS) – which Powell headed for more than a decade – said in a statement. He died in Oxford surrounded by his family.
Born on November 4, 1950, in the small village of Great Kingshill, in Buckinghamshire, Powell started out running a record shop and was among the founding partners in 1972 of Virgin Records, which became one of the U.K.’s top recording labels before being sold to EMI 20 years later.
In 1983 Powell co-founded U.K. video label and production outfit Palace Pictures with Stephen Woolley. They produced a string of standout titles such as “The Company of Wolves” (1984), and Neil Jordan’s “Mona Lisa” (1986) and “The Crying Game,” which won a best screenplay Oscar in 1993.
On the distribution side, where Powell put his savvy from the record business to good use, Palace Video titles included David Lynch’s “Eraserhead,” Derek Jarman’s “The Tempest” and Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo.” Then, when they expanded into theatrical, Palace Pictures was behind the U.K. releases of films including Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead,” Nagisa Oshima’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,” the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple,” Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally,” as well as films by big local names like Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Peter Greenaway.
Virgin Records, which had scored hits with the Sex Pistols among other artists, “were quite famous for their clever marketing,” Wolley told Variety. “When Nik and I started Palace Video he brought a lot of those innovative ways of thinking,” he added, noting that when he first met Powell Wolley was just 22 or 23, and he “backed me in a way that was astonishing.”
“He just would be there for you,” Wolley said. “If you wanted to close a deal; if you were talking about trying to get something different done; if you were trying to change the rules, in a way. Nick would be right behind it. And I think that was what he’s done. Certainly it’s what he did with me. He gave me an opportunity that changed my life, really.”
When Palace Pictures was forced to close in 1992 due to a series of box office misfires, Powell set up a new outfit, Scala Productions, which produced movies such as Nick Hornby adaptation “Fever Pitch,” Fred Schepisi’s “Last Orders,” Michael Radford’s “B. Monkey” and “Ladies in Lavender” from Charles Dance.
Powell was director of the NFTS from 2003 to 2017 while also retaining his position as chairman of Scala Productions.
Under his leadership, the NFTS underwent a transformation that helped it “gain recognition as one of the best film schools in the world,” the school said in a statement.
Said NFTS Director Jon Wardle: “I spent five incredibly happy years working with Nik as his deputy. He was a good friend and I will miss him hugely. He told me recently how his work to support and develop NFTS students to reach their full potential was probably the professional achievement he was most proud of.”
The culmination of Powell’s work at NFTS was recognized in 2018 when he and Wardle were awarded the BAFTA for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema.
“Nik leaves an unrivaled legacy and no one has done more than him to set the bar high. We will continue to strive for the future success of the School in his honour,” the statement said.
“He stood up for innovation,” said Wolley. “He stood up for change and difference, and he backed young people his entire career. That’s something that people have got to remember about Nik. That he was quite a selfless person.”
Powell is survived by his two children Amie and Jack.