Academy Award-nominated “Chinatown” producer Robert Evans died on Saturday night. He was 89.
From a cocaine-trafficking conviction in 1980 to his connection to the murder of Roy Radin during the making of “The Cotton Club” in 1983, Evans’ life was the stuff of Hollywood legend, as were his credits. Following a brief acting career that pulled him out of his day job of selling women’s clothing, beginning with 1957’s “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” Evans took the reins as an executive at Paramount overseeing such films as “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “True Grit.” He went out on his own as a producer, beginning with Roman Polanski’s 1974 noir “Chinatown” (which earned him his Best Picture Oscar nomination), followed by “Marathon Man,” “Black Sunday,” “Popeye,” “The Cotton Club,” and more, making him one of the most influential figures of the New Hollywood of the 1970s.
Evans had many clashes with Francis Ford Coppola throughout his career, and his influence on the making of “The Godfather” films, also at Paramount, remains a matter of dispute. Evans and Coppola notoriously came to blows over the latter’s beleaguered “The Cotton Club,” which just received a theatrical re-release for its director’s cut this month.
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Despite suffering a major stroke in 1998, Evans continued to work through nearly up until his death. His last major hit, though, was 2003’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”
Evans was married seven times throughout his life, including to “Dynasty” actress Catherine Oxenberg for a little over a week, and, most famously, to actress Ali McGraw. Their split caused a media circus when it came out that McGraw had dumped Evans for her costar, Steve McQueen, with whom she starred in 1972’s “The Getaway.”
In 1994, Evans detailed his wild career in his biography “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” which was later adapted into a 2002 documentary directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen. The title, Evans said, came from a telegram by executive Darryl Zanuck in response to pleas from Evans’ co-stars on 1957’s Ernest Hemingway adaptation “The Sun Also Rises” to replace the actor.
Peter Biskind’s 1998 books “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” offers an intimate glimpse at Evans’ hard-partying days in the 1970s, and charts his influence on the period’s leading luminaries. “Evans was one of the great crash-and-burn stories of the ’70s,” Biskind wrote in “Easy Riders.” He “evinced a peculiar mixture of treacly Hallmark Card sentimentality …and a self-destructive darkness that would lead him into murky waters over his head.” In 2013, Evans told The Telegraph, “Whatever indiscretions I’ve had in my life, I’ve paid for them pretty good.”