RIP Robert Evans — Legendary Producer Dead At 89

He produced the films 'Love Story' and 'Chinatown.'

How Did Robert Evans Die? New Details On Death Of Legendary Producer At 89 Getty

One of the most colorful characters in the history of Hollywood died this week. Robert Evans, a failed actor who became a legendary producer passed away at the age of 89, according to a spokeswoman. She shared no details about his cause of death. 

Evans began his career as a radio actor but found his greatest success in producing. He was the driving force behind films like Love Story and the Godfather. He made some of the biggest pictures of the 1960s and 1970s before a series of scandals alienated him from Hollywood in the 1980s. His name will always be associated with the sordid tale of the contract killing of an investor in Evans' film The Cotton Club


In his later years, he had a return to producing and turned out hits like How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and total misses like The Saint. He suffered a stroke in 1998 but recovered well enough to continue to work, though he did rely on a cane to get around. 

How did Robert Evans die? 

1. Evans' early career

Born Robert Sharpera in 1930, Evans first started acting just out of high school. He had some success as a radio actor but an injury sidelined him for a year. He went into business with his brother Charles who had co-founded the women's clothing line Evan-Picone and he did well as a salesman for the company. Allegedly, he was on a business trip when actress Norma Shearer spotted him in a swimming pool and decided he would be perfect to play her late husband Irving Thalberg in the movie The Man of a Thousand Faces


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2. The Kid Stays in the Picture

After being discovered that way, Evans tried to make it as an actor. He certainly had the classic good looks to succeed on the silver screen. Unfortunately, he didn't have the acting talent. The looks were enough for legendary director Darryl F. Zanuck, who cast him in The Sun Also Rises. When Ernest Hemmingway, the author of the novel that inspired the film objected to Evans' wooden performance as a bullfight, Zanuck defended Evans. "The kid stays in the picture!" Zanuck demanded. That phrase became the title of Evans' autobiography years later, noted The Hollywood Reporter.



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Evans in his youth.

3. Moving his career off-screen

Once Evans realized that acting wasn't going to be his path to success, he turned his attention to producing. Variety reports that he bought the rights to the novel The Detective with the hopes of producing it. Thanks to a flattering profile in the New York Times, executives at Fox brought him on board as a producer. There, he eventually made The Detective with Frank Sinatra in the starring role. But it wasn't long before he went on to bigger and better things. He befriended Charles Bluhdorn of Gulf & Western, which owned Paramount Pictures. Bluhdhorn surprised the whole industry by naming Evans VP in charge of production for the studio. By 1969 he was the executive vice president of worldwide production.



A post shared by Marion Fasel (@theadventurine) on Aug 7, 2019 at 6:04am PDT

Ali McGraw was Evans' third wife. 


4. Heyday at Paramount

During his years running the Paramount studio, Evans greenlighted some of the greatest films of the era. His output included Rosemary’s Baby, Romeo and Juliet, Love Story, Serpico, Chinatown, The Conversation, and Harold and Maude as well as The Godfather. He also oversaw some tremendous flops such as Paint Your Wagon, Catch-22 and the 1974 production of The Great Gatsby.

“We didn’t strive for commercial,” he told Variety in 2002. “We went for original. We fell on our asses on some of them, but we also touched magic.” 

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5. Striking out on his own

After his Paramount years, Evans worked as an independent producer. He turned out such films as Marathon Man, Black Sunday, Popeye and Urban Cowboy between 1976 and 1980. But by the 80s he faced drug arrests and his hard-partying lifestyle was catching up with him.


5. Making The Cotton Club

One of his passion projects was the underworld crime drama The Cotton Club. Evans produced the film and Francis Ford Coppola directed it. The $50 million production forced Evans to seek financing wherever he could get it, including from vaudeville impresario Roy Radin. During production, Radin was killed in a murder for hire scheme, the New York Times reports. The killing took years to solve. Eventually, contract killer William Mentzer was sentenced for shooting Radin multiple times in the head. Karen Greenberger, who had been romantically involved with Evans, was also convicted of second-degree murder and kidnapping, motivated by anger about being cut out of The Cotton Club movie. Evans, while never convicted, was implicated in the crime by witnesses and was treated as a pariah in Hollywood for years afterward. The Cotton Club was released in 1984 and was a dismal failure.  

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6. A volatile personal life 

While he was making good and bad films, he was also making marriages. Evans was married seven times overall, none lasting longer than a few years. His first wife was actress Sharon Hugueny, then he married actress Camilla Sparv. His third wife was Ali McGraw and they had their son Josh together. She left him for Steve McQueen after meeting him on the set of The Getaway. After that divorce, he married former Miss America Phyllis George. In 1998 he had a brief marriage to actress Catherine Oxenberg which was annulled the same year. He married Leslie Ann Woodward for three years in 2002 and finally married and divorced Victoria White. 


Evans passed away on October 26, 2019. He is survived by his son Josh and his grandson, as well as his sister Alice Shure.

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.