Jon Landau, the Oscar-winning 'Titanic' and 'Avatar' producer, dead at 63: NPR

Jon Landau stands for a portrait during the 95th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, in February 2023. Landau, an Oscar-winning producer who worked closely with director James Cameron on “Titanic” and the “Avatar” series, has died.

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LOS ANGELES — Jon Landau, an Oscar-winning producer who worked closely with director James Cameron on three of the biggest blockbusters of all time, “Titanic” and two “Avatar” films, has died. He was 63.

Landau's family announced his death Saturday. No cause of death was given.

Landau's collaboration with Cameron led to three Oscar nominations and a Best Picture win for 1997's “Titanic.” Together, they are responsible for some of the biggest box office hits in cinema history, including “Avatar” and its sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

“Jon Landau believed in the dream of cinema. He believed that film is the ultimate human art form, and to make films you must first be human,” Cameron said in a lengthy statement posted by The Hollywood Reporter. “He will be remembered as much for his enormous generosity as for the films themselves.

“I worked with Jon Landau for 31 years and I never saw him down,” Cameron said. “He led with a balance of humor and fierce will, and a real joy in the work.”

Landau's career began in the 1980s as a production manager and steadily rose to co-producer on 'Honey I Shrunk the Kids' and 'Dick Tracy'.

He took on the role of producer on “Titanic,” Cameron's expensive epic about the infamous 1912 maritime disaster. The bet paid off: “Titanic” became the first film to gross more than $1 billion worldwide at the box office and won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture.

“I can't act, I can't compose, and I can't do visual effects, so I guess that's why I produce,” Landau said as she accepted the award alongside Cameron.

Their partnership continued, with Landau becoming a top executive at Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment. In 2009, the two watched as “Avatar,” a sci-fi epic filmed and shown in theaters using groundbreaking 3-D technology, surpassed the box office success of “Titanic.” It remains the highest-grossing film of all time.

The sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” is in third place.

“Your wisdom and support have shaped so many of us in ways we will always be grateful for,” Zoe Saldaña, one of the stars of the “Avatar” franchise, said in an emotional tribute on Instagram. “Your legacy will continue to inspire and guide us on our journey.”

Landau is a key player in the “Avatar” franchise, which saw its release of “The Way of Water” frequently delayed. Landau has defended the sequel's progress and Cameron's ambitious plans to film multiple sequels simultaneously to keep the franchise going.

“A lot has changed, but a lot hasn’t,” Landau told The Associated Press in 2022, a few months before the sequel’s release. “One of the things that hasn’t changed is, why do people turn to entertainment today? Just like they did when the first ‘Avatar’ came out, they do it to escape, to escape the world we live in.”

“Jon was a visionary whose extraordinary talent and passion brought some of the most unforgettable stories to life on the big screen. His remarkable contributions to the film industry have left an indelible mark and he will be deeply missed. He was an iconic and successful producer, but also an even greater person and a true force of nature who inspired everyone around him,” said Alan Bergman, co-chairman of Disney Entertainment, in a statement.

Landau was named executive vice president of feature films at 20th Century Fox at age 29, which put him in charge of such major hits as “Home Alone” and its sequel, as well as “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “True Lies,” where he first began working closely with Cameron.

Landau was also influential in bringing the manga adaptation “Alita: Battle Angel” to the big screen in 2019. Cameron supported the project, but his “Avatar” commitments prevented him from directing. Instead, Landau teamed up with director Robert Rodriguez to complete the film.

Landau was born in New York City on July 23, 1960, the son of film producers Ely and Edie Landau. The family moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s, and Landau graduated from the University of Southern California Film School.

Ely Landau died in 1993. Edie Landau, the Oscar-nominated producer of films such as “Long Day's Journey Into Night,” “Hopscotch” and “The Deadly Game,” died in 2022.

Jon Landau is survived by his wife of nearly 40 years, Julie; their sons Jamie and Jodie; and two sisters and a brother.

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