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Film producer Richard D. Zanuck dies at 77

LOS ANGELES--Veteran Hollywood executive Richard D. Zanuck, the prolific producer behind the blockbuster shark thriller “Jaws,” the best-picture Oscar-winner “Driving Miss Daisy” and a string of Tim Burton fantasies, died on Friday of a heart attack at age 77.

Zanuck, son of famed 20th Century Fox chieftain Darryl F. Zanuck, who was named by his father at age 28 as Fox's head of production, making him Hollywood's then youngest-ever studio boss, died at his home in Beverly Hills, a spokesman said.

No further details were immediately available about the circumstances of his death.

Zanuck, who spent the bulk of his career as an independent producer, earned numerous awards during more than 50 years in filmmaking.

Among his accolades were the Academy Award he shared with his wife and collaborator, Lili Fini Zanuck, for their work on “Driving Miss Daisy,” and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his work with longtime associate David Brown.

Steven Spielberg, with whom Zanuck collaborated on “Jaws,” called the producer “a cornerstone of our industry, both in name and in deed.”

“In 1974, Dick Zanuck and I sat in a boat off Martha's Vineyard and watched the mechanical shark sink to the bottom of the sea,” Spielberg recalled in a statement. “Dick turned to me and smiled. 'Gee, I sure hope that's not a sign.'”

That moment of wry humor proved to be far from prophetic, as “Jaws,” the tale of a great white shark that terrorizes a small New England beach town, became one of the biggest hits of its era and helped launch Spielberg's career as a director.

Born in Los Angeles, Zanuck, whose mother was actress Virginia Fox, joined his father as a story and production assistant on two 20th Century Fox films, “Island in the Sun” and “The Sun Also Rises.”

He debuted as a full-fledged producer at age 24 on 1959 feature film “Compulsion,” which starred Orson Welles. Four years later, he was placed in charge of production at his father's studio.

During his eight-year tenure there, the studio cranked out a series of critical and commercial successes, “The Sound of Music,” “Patton” and “The French Connection,” all of which won best film Oscars.

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