Otto Spoerri, who for more than two decades dispensed the tickets and seated the stars at the annual Academy Awards ceremony, died Saturday in Zurich, Switzerland, after suffering a stroke and contracting pneumonia, an academy spokeswoman said. He was 75.
The Swiss-born accountant served as controller for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1978 to 2002.
But every year since 1980, Spoerri had the additional task of being in charge of deciding the seating arrangements and distributing the tickets to the star-studded Oscar ceremony and the after-show Governors Ball.
"He was, from the day I met him, the most easygoing guy with enormous responsibility that I had ever met," said movie producer Sid Ganis, president of the academy, who was on the board of governors during Spoerri's tenure.
Not only was Spoerri the academy's controller, Ganis said, but as "the keeper" of the highly sought-after tickets to the Oscar show, "everybody in Hollywood and way beyond was at his doorstep in trying to get him to give up some of his treasure."
Once dubbed "the ultimate arbiter of industry power" by the Wall Street Journal, the affable Spoerri considered the job "a major, major undertaking."
"It's up to us to make sure everybody is comfortable and nobody has anything to worry about," he said in a 2001 interview with the Record, a New Jersey newspaper and one of the many Oscar-curious news organizations that sought him out during awards season over the years.
As for how the seating is broken down, Spoerri told The Times in 2002 that studios receive an allotment of tickets based on their nominations.
"Then," he said, "we have the nominees coming, and then we have the honored guests, who are a list of maybe 40 different people . . . from the governor to the mayor and police chief; and you have past presidents of the academy and certain obligations to some of the major contributors to the academy."
Each nominee, Spoerri explained to the Associated Press in 1999, is offered two tickets.
He was, however, willing to listen to pleas for more.
"Some nominees ask for extra seats for parents, grown-up kids, whatever it might be," he said. "If you can accommodate them, you do."
Although he admittedly was "pretty awed by the star power" when he took over the job, he said, "I have said 'no' to stars."
"Those phone calls aren't very pleasant," he told the Record. "When people start demanding things, a switch goes off in my head. If they ask first, they have a chance."
Noted Ganis: "If he knew you and he liked you, guess what? You sat two rows in front of where maybe you should have been sitting."
The job of seating Hollywood A-listers was not without potential pitfalls.
In the mid-1980s, Spoerri seated an actress known for her volatility too close to a top male actor, unaware that he had just dumped her.
"I figured out not to do that anymore," he said with a chuckle. "That was early on in my career. Now, I keep up with what's happening."