Acclaimed film producer and cancer activist Laura Ziskin died Sunday evening at her home in Santa Monica at the age of 61. Ziskin, who lived with breast cancer for seven years, is survived by her husband, screenwriter Alvin Sargent, with whom she frequently collaborated; daughter, producer Julia Barry, and son-in-law, writer Eli Dansky.
The family requests that donations be made to Stand Up To Cancer: (via http://su2c.org or by mail: Attn: Stand Up To Cancer, c/o The Entertainment Industry Foundation, 1201 West 5th Street., T-700, Los Angeles, CA, 90017.)
Ziskin had a trail-blazing career as a producer and studio executive for 35 years. After her cancer diagnosis, Ziskin embraced an additional, unsought role as a cancer activist, joining with other women in the entertainment and media businesses (including Sherry Lansing, Katie Couric, Rusty Robertson, Sue Schwartz, Ellen Ziffren, Pam Williams, Noreen Fraser, and the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Lisa Paulsen and Kathleen Lobb) to co-found Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). The group marshals the entertainment industry's resources to engage the public in supporting a new approach to cancer research geared toward getting new therapies to patients quickly.
Earlier this year, Ziskin was awarded The Producers Guild of America's Visionary Award for her work as a film producer and her humanitarian efforts in the fight against cancer. Speaking of herself and the other SU2C co-founders, Ziskin said, "We realized we had the potential to make cancer the first-tier issue it needs to be and to impact how cancer is treated by using our skills as producers and quite literally 'putting on a show.' Stand Up To Cancer is my most important production and I am so touched and proud that the PGA is honoring us for it."
In late 2007, ABC, CBS and NBC committed to donating an hour of time for the first-ever "roadblock" televised fundraising event to proactively combat a major public health threat. Ziskin was executive producer of the initial, historic Stand Up To Cancer telecast in September of 2008, as well as a follow-up one in September, 2010, that aired on those three broadcast networks, FOX, and 13 cable providers. The shows, which featured hundreds of film and TV stars, recording artists, news anchors and sports personalities, were seen in 175 countries.
Donors of every type joined the movement, ranging from individuals all over the country to organizations like Major League Baseball, philanthropists such as Sidney Kimmel, and corporations from an array of industries. Largely in connection with these two televised specials, $180 million has been pledged to support groundbreaking "translational" cancer research designed to move developments from the laboratory phase to new treatments that will benefit people battling cancer in record time. One of Stand Up To Cancer's key goals is to foster increased collaboration among cancer researchers at different institutions. Currently, 355 scientists from 55 institutions collaborate, interact and share information through SU2C.
"Laura was the heart and soul of Stand Up To Cancer," said SU2C co-founder Sherry Lansing. "She dreamed big, and attacked every challenge with creativity, passion, perseverance and intelligence."
Added SU2C co-founder Katie Couric, "Laura was one of the most courageous people I've ever known. Her fearlessness in the face of this relentless killer inspires everyone on the SU2C team to redouble our efforts to make cancer history."
Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, chairs the Stand Up To Cancer Scientific Advisory Committee, which makes the recommendations about which projects to fund. Dr. Sharp said, "Stand Up To Cancer's research is all about bringing new therapies to the people who need them quickly. Laura was the 'impatient patient', constantly hammering that message home to everyone on the science side of SU2C - from the Advisory Committee and American Association for Cancer Research, to the Dream Team members and young Innovative Investigators. We take the mantra Laura and the other co-founders reiterate to us very seriously: that we collaborate in every way possible in order to accelerate the pace of research...That principle will forever guide our work."
Ziskin's Film Career
A California native, Ziskin grew up in the San Fernando Valley. After graduating from the USC School of Cinema-Television in 1973, Ziskin began writing for game shows and then became the film producer/director Jon Peters' personal assistant. She quickly became a development executive, moving into feature films with Peters' Production Company, where she worked on the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born, starring Barbra Streisand. In 1978, she was the associate producer of The Eyes of Laura Mars.
In 1984, Ziskin partnered with Sally Field in Fogwood Films and produced Murphy's Romance, which yielded an Academy Award nomination for James Garner as Best Actor. Ziskin's passion for identifying new talent emerged early on. In 1987, she produced No Way Out, starring then newcomer Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. In 1990, she was Executive Producer of Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts, which remains one of the highest-grossing films in Disney's history.