NEW YORK — Thomas M. Sherak, a film studio executive whose impassioned advocacy raised the profile of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during his tenure as its president, died of prostate cancer at his home Tuesday in Calabasas, Calif. He was 68.
Mr. Sherak began a three-year term as the academy’s president in 2009, as the group undertook a drive to build a museum of world film in Los Angeles. That project, which is yet to be finished, and an effort to open the academy to younger and more diverse members, gave it a mission beyond the annual award of its Oscar statuettes.
“The job is defined by personality,” Mr. Sherak said in summarizing his approach to the academy’s presidency. In fact, he was known as an expansive personality who helped shape several companies, including 20th Century Fox and Revolution Studios, through exuberant decades when Hollywood’s film business was enjoying the gold rush that came with newly discovered video and DVD revenue.
At Fox in the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Sherak rose through the distribution ranks and oversaw the release of blockbusters like “Titanic,” “Alien,” and “There’s Something About Mary.” Known for his candor and sly humor, he sometimes told of having kept the office nameplate of each of his fired bosses and arranging them, he said, in his own office bathroom.
He later joined another Hollywood executive, Joe Roth, in operating Revolution, a powerful independent company nested within Sony Pictures, which released its movies. Revolution closed in 2007 after amassing a checkered collection of hits and misses that included “Anger Management,” “Daddy Day Care,” and “Hellboy,” along with the resounding flop “Gigli.”
Born in New York in 1945, Mr. Sherak took his first studio job at Paramount Pictures, in the regional distribution office.
He later worked for General Cinema, a large theater chain, before joining Fox, where he became a stabilizing force in a studio that went through ownership and management changes.
At the film academy, Mr. Sherak turned the presidency, which had often been viewed as ceremonial post, into a full-time, though unpaid, job. After leaving, he remained active as a film consultant, advising Paramount and other companies.
One of his last tasks was to guide Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a Paramount release, through a difficult vetting by the industry’s film ratings board. The board ultimately rated the film R, despite profanities and outrageous sexual moments that had seemed to point it toward the far more restrictive NC-17 rating.
Although he was increasingly weakened by cancer that was discovered more than a decade ago, Mr. Sherak had remained active in Hollywood charities and as the director of a city film board that has been striving to bring production back to Los Angeles.
He leaves his wife, Madeleine; two daughters, Barbra Neinstein and Melissa Glasser; a son, William; a sister, Sandra Kalish; and 10 grandchildren.