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Arnold Kopelson, Oscar-winning producer of 'Platoon' and 'The Fugitive,' dies at 83

Arnold Kopelson, Oscar-winning producer of 'Platoon' and 'The Fugitive,' dies at 83
Producer Arnold Kopelson with his wife and producing partner, Anne Kopelson. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

Arnold Kopelson, the Oscar-winning producer of “Platoon” and “The Fugitive” and former longtime CBS board member, has died. He was 83.

Kopelson, who recently made headlines for secretly recording aging CBS mogul Sumner Redstone, died at 6 a.m. on Monday in his Beverly Hills home, his wife and longtime producing partner, Anne Kopelson, told The Times.

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The producer died of natural causes after battling a slew of age-related health issues, she said.

“Our lives were intertwined,” his wife told The Times. “We were lifelong partners in love and business. We finished each other’s sentences. We were a unit. One person. We had a successful career because we understood each other.”

While she handled the financial side of Kopelson Entertainment, he handled the creative side, regarding himself as a hands-on producer rather than as a “packaging agent” putting together deals.

Before becoming the maker of big-budget action movies such as “Se7en,” “The Devil’s Advocate” and “U.S. Marshals,” Kopelson worked in entertainment and banking law, where he specialized in motion-picture financing. He and his wife formed a foreign-distribution company called Inter-Ocean Film Sales in 1972 that would later become Kopelson Entertainment.

During their 42 years together, the Kopelsons traveled the world meeting distributors and studying foreign markets when the independent film industry was still in its nascent stages.

“Without him it's not Kopelson Entertainment,” she said, confirming that she would probably not carry on with their decades-old company after his death.

Their breakout film, 1982’s raunchy coming-of-age film “Porky’s,” turned Kopelson’s $20,000 investment into a whopping $2 million.

The key to their success, however, was that they learned early on that thrillers and action films translated to foreign markets better than comedies, providing audiences with “true popcorn entertainment,” she said.

Then came Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam War drama “Platoon,” which earned four Academy Awards. Kopelson was a young producer when he got hold of the script, which had been floating around Hollywood for 10 years.

“He read five pages of it and he said, ‘I'm gonna make this movie,’” Anne Kopelson said. “He was a man of incredible passion. If he believed, he believed. And he would go to the ends of the earth to make that happen.”

The film’s watershed success made Arnold Kopelson endeavor to produce films that blended social statements with entertainment.

“Financial reward is no longer enough. I caught Oliver’s passion and want, at least, some of my films to say something,” Kopelson told The Times in 1993.

And he saw a mix of that in the following years while he released a series of films to varied box-office results. His next projects — “Triumph of the Spirit,” “Fire Birds” and “Warlock” — either bombed or performed mildly. But he began to mount a comeback with the 1991 Steven Seagal drama “Out for Justice,” his first in a series of films for Warner Bros.

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He built on that success with 1993’s “Falling Down,” the Michael Douglas-starring story of a beleaguered defense industry worker, which earned a handsome profit when it made $100 million at the global box office and inspired a “White Male Paranoia” cover of Newsweek.

That same year, Kopelson remade the 1960s serial “The Fugitive” into a blockbuster starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. The film, about an innocent man wrongly accused of murdering his wife, racked up six Oscar nominations, including a nod for best picture and a supporting-actor win for Jones. (Kopelson later took the film back to television in 2000 with Tim Daly in the starring role of the CBS series.)

In The Times, director Andrew Davis described Kopelson as “a wheeler-dealer with a good grasp of the business, unlike many in Hollywood” and “he prefers that his pictures have class and some soul.”

“People say I’m lucky,” Kopelson said in that same Times article in 1993. “And, in many ways, I am. But, to quote that old Jewish expression: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I am.’”

Arnold Kopelson, left, with Sumner Redstone and Leslie Moonves in 2012.
Arnold Kopelson, left, with Sumner Redstone and Leslie Moonves in 2012. (Alex J. Berliner / abimages)

The producer, who briefly aspired to be a concert pianist, was born Feb. 14, 1935, and grew up poor in wartime Brooklyn, where he waited on tables to put himself through college and law school at New York University and New York Law School, respectively.

Before moving on to Hollywood, he worked as counsel in entertainment lending transactions to several institutions and became an expert in motion-picture financing.

“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. Our hearts go out to Anne and his family,” CBS said in a statement to The Times.

Kopelson was a longtime friend of Sumner Redstone, the controlling shareholder of CBS and Viacom Inc., which owns MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and the Paramount Pictures movie studio. He and his wife were regulars at Redstone’s Beverly Park mansion for Redstone’s weekly movie screenings before the media mogul’s health deteriorated.

The veteran producer also was a staunch ally of former CBS Chairman and Chief Executive Les Moonves, and he was instrumental in CBS’ recent court case to try to pry the company loose from the Redstone family. That effort, however, collapsed last month as part of a sweeping settlement that included the ouster of several longtime board members, including Kopelson.

In late January, Kopelson used his iPhone to make a surreptitious recording of Redstone, who is 95 and can barely speak. The recording, which hasn’t been made public, revealed that Redstone was a shell of his former self and could not answer basic questions, such as who controlled CBS, according to people who have seen the recording.

Kopelson said in a court filing that he made the recording to “memorialize Mr. Redstone’s physical state.” The contents of the recording alarmed a Delaware judge who was presiding over CBS’ short-lived lawsuit targeting the Redstone family.

His wife said that the stress of the case weighed on him during his last few months.

“It was not a pleasant time,” she said.

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Kopelson is survived by his wife and children (two sons and a daughter) whom Anne Kopelson adopted after Arnold’s first wife died of breast cancer.

Funeral services have been arranged at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles for Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.

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