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Stuart Cornfeld, ‘Zoolander’ producer and Ben Stiller collaborator, dies at 67

Stuart Cornfeld at 2016 Greenwich International Film Festival on June 11, 2016, in Greenwich, Conn.
Stuart Cornfeld in 2016 as part of a panel on the business of comedy at the Greenwich International Film Festival in Greenwich, Conn.
(Noam Galai / Getty Images)

Stuart Cornfeld, who produced “Zoolander,” “Dodgeball” and “Tropic Thunder” with Ben Stiller, died on June 26 of cancer. He was 67.

The news was confirmed by his friend actress Liliana Greenfield-Sanders and others on social media. “He was the funniest person on the planet,” she wrote. “I will miss him terribly.”

The Hollywood native was born in 1952 and graduated from the American Film Institute in 1975. After working with Anne Bancroft on two projects at AFI, he was introduced to her husband, Mel Brooks, and became his assistant on the 1977 film “High Anxiety.”

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Cornfeld went on to work with the couple on several more projects and got his first executive producing credit on Brooks’ 1980 film “The Elephant Man.”

In the early days of his career, Cornfeld produced “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” (1985), David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986), Steven Soderbergh’s “Kafka” (1991) and Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic” (1997). He also had bit parts in several movies including “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” in which he played the Pirate King of Captain Hook Fish ‘n Chips.

Cornfeld was introduced to Stiller through a mutual friend, writer Jerry Stahl, whom Stiller portrayed in the 1998 indie drama “Permanent Midnight.” “Stuart had met Jerry at the Hollywood YMCA,” Stiller said. “Stuart recognized him and just came up to him and started talking because he liked his writing and then they became really good friends.”

At the time, Stiller was working toward launching a production company and at Stahl’s behest had lunch with Cornfeld. The two immediately hit it off.

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In 1999 they launched Red Hour Films, under which they enjoyed success with the comedies “Zoolander” (2001), “Duplex” (2003), “Starsky & Hutch” (2004), “Dodgeball” (2004), “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny” (2006), “Blades of Glory” (2007) and “Tropic Thunder” (2008), the last of which earned an Academy Award nomination for Robert Downey Jr. and won best comedy at the Broadcast Critics Film Awards and the Hollywood Film Awards.

“Someone [described him as] a great companion to experience life with,” Stiller said. “He always had an interesting take on something. I always wanted to show him a script or hear what he’d say about a scene because he’d always have a point of view that you just knew would get to the meat of the issue. And writers loved him because he was a really good writer himself. His emails were kind of legendary. He wrote amazingly funny, great emails.

“He was just a good friend,” Stiller added. “He was such a smart and funny guy who really enjoyed doing what he did and was incredibly good at it. He could be really, really incisive but also kind and human. He loved movies. He was a cinephile but loved weird, obscure movies. That was his thing. He was always looking for interesting art, had a really eclectic group of friends and had a super dark, cynical sense of humor that was always so spot on. Especially in show business — he had a really great sense of the irony in show business.”

Toward the end of his career, Cornfeld produced Jack Black’s 2017 film “The Polka King” and did some work in television. He was awarded the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal by AFI in 2013 and most recently produced the documentary “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” for Netflix.

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“I always felt, for him, the movies and the art of it came before the business,” Stiller recalled. “That was the way he worked. After we stopped working together because he was battling cancer for a few years, he had no self-pity. He never wanted to talk about it, he just wanted to talk about things that were interesting to him. And so we’d go have lunch together, go to the movies, just talk about life.”

Cornfeld is survived by his ex-wife, Johanna Went, and sisters Lois and Ellen.


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