Saul Zaentz, three-time Oscar-winning producer, dies at 92

Saul Zaentz, 92, won best picture Oscars for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Amadeus" and "The English Patient."
(Paul Morse / Los Angeles Times)

Saul Zaentz, the fiesty music industry executive turned independent movie producer who won three best-picture Academy Awards in three different decades has died. He was 92.

Zaentz died Friday at his home San Francisco from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, according to his nephew, Paul Zaentz.

Though he had only nine films to his name, Zaentz earned a reputation in Hollywood for producing prestige movies with a certain literary pedigree. He kept his distance from the industry, running his independent film production company in Berkeley.


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His movies managed to attracted A-list directors, writers and actors, many of whom would go on to win Oscars.

Zaentz hit the jackpot for producing “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975. The movie, which he co-produced with actor Michael Douglas, was based on the popular Ken Kesey novel and starred Jack Nicholson as a troublemaking patient in a mental institution.

The movie won five Oscars that year, including for picture, director, actor, actress and adapted screenplay.

“Cuckoo’s Nest” marked Zaentz’s first collaboration with director Milos Forman. They would team up again in 1984 for “Amadeus,” which also won the Oscar for best picture and director that year.

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Zaentz’s third best-picture Oscar was for 1996’s “The English Patient,” directed by Anthony Minghella. At the ceremony, Zaentz also received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, which honors lifetime achievement in producing.

His other movie credits include “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and “Goya’s Ghosts.”

Before turning to the movies, Zaentz was a music industry executive who worked at Fantasy Records, which he later bought. He worked with a number of prominent bands, including Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Zaentz had a reputation for being litigious and ended up suing Creedence lead singer John Fogerty a number of times over the rights to their catalog.

Born in Passaic, N.J., in 1921, Zaentz was a rebellious youth who earned his way as a young man as a gambler. He served in the Army during World War II before heading to California.

A full obituary will appear at


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