Rick Finkelstein, a longtime Universal Pictures executive who was featured in a documentary about injured athletes after he was paralyzed in a ski accident, died Tuesday of cancer, the studio said. He was 64.

Finkelstein, known for his sharp mind and business acumen, for years led the studio's home video and television distribution. He most recently was in charge of the studio's strategic planning and anti-piracy efforts. He also was the studio's representative on the Board of Directors of the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

In a management shuffle three years ago, Finkelstein moved from operations and into the strategic role, helping advise then-Chairman Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley, who is now the film studio's top creative executive.

An avid skier, Finkelstein was severely injured in a 2004 skiing accident on Aspen Mountain in Colorado. He nearly died and was paralyzed from the waist down.

"I never thought I wouldn't work again," Finkelstein told The Times two years ago.

Finkelstein, who used a motorized wheelchair after the accident, was worried about how a town consumed with appearances would see him. "I was really concerned about showing up in a wheelchair. That was my biggest concern — that it would make me look weak," he said.

Finkelstein became the subject of a documentary about injured athletes called "The Movement: One Man Joins an Uprising."

He was born Sept. 15, 1949, in Los Angeles. As a young man more interested in adventure than a career, Finkelstein was traveling through Japan when he was arrested for selling marijuana to an American soldier outside Tokyo.

Thrown into solitary confinement and facing the possibility of years of hard labor in a Japanese prison, he promised his family that he would make something of his life if he had the chance.

Finkelstein was freed after several weeks in custody, and when he returned to the United States, he applied to law school and was a standout student at UC Berkeley's School of Law.

As a lawyer, he worked with the Rolling Stones and oil tycoon Armand Hammer.

Finkelstein joined Universal from PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, where he served as executive vice president, and helped integrate PolyGram into Universal Studios.

meg.james@latimes.com

john.horn@latimes.com