John Calley, who ran three Hollywood studios that made such hits as "The Exorcist" and "Spider-Man," died Tuesday. He was 81.
Calley died at his home in Los Angeles after a lengthy illness, Sony Pictures Entertainment said.
Among the other varied and influential films produced under his tenure as a studio head were "All the President's Men," "Dirty Harry," "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Da Vinci Code."
Calley's career spanned more than 50 years and he most recently served as Sony's chairman and chief executive officer. Before that he was the studio chief at Warner Bros. in the 1970s and MGM/United Artists in the 1990s.
"John was unique," director Mike Nichols said. "As a friend he was always there and always funny. He made life a joy for those he loved."
He also was unfailingly supportive and didn't try to do the filmmaker's job, Nichols said.
"When he believed in someone, he trusted and supported him and when very rarely he had a suggestion it was usually a life-saver," he said. "In fact that's what he was: a life-saver."
Amy Pascal, co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said Calley had a rare combination of attributes.
"He had a steely business mind and the soul of an artist," Pascal said. "His sense of humor about the business never made him cynical or got in the way of his passion for movies and directors."
Calley was born on July 8, 1930, in Jersey City, N.J. His entertainment career began when he was 21, working in the NBC mailroom in New York after serving in the Army.
After working his way up through the ranks in the network's early years, he eventually moved to Warner Bros. in 1969, a groundbreaking time for cinema. Over the years he worked with top directors including Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood and Sydney Pollack.
At the Academy Awards in 2009, Calley received the honorary Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, with the academy praising him for his "intellectual rigor, sophisticated artistic sensibilities and calm, understated manner." He was called one of the most trusted and admired figures in Hollywood.
Calley is survived by a daughter and three step-children from his marriage to Meg Tilly. Memorial arrangements are being planned and will take place at Sony Pictures Studios.