Avatar And Titanic Producer Jon Landau Dies, Aged 63

Jon Landau

by Jordan King |
Updated on

Jon Landau, the Oscar-winning producer behind the likes of Avatar, Titanic, and Alita: Battle Angel, has died. He passed away on Friday in Los Angeles after a 16 month long battle with cancer.

In a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, Landau's sister Tina confirmed her brother's passing and shared the following: "The best brother a girl could ever dream of — my brother Jon — has passed away. My heart is broken but also bursting with pride and gratitude for his most extraordinary life, and the love and gifts he gave me — and all who knew him or his films."

And it truly was an extraordinary life. Born in New York on 23 July, 1960 to film and TV producer parents Edythe and Ely Landau, whose credits include Sidney Lumet's Long Day's Journey Into Night and John Frankenheimer's The Iceman Cometh, Jon Landau it seems was always destined to be in the movie business — Hollywood was in his blood. And, having had his natural passion for motion pictures nurtured from a young age by his parents, Landau's love of cinema led him to study the medium at USC School Of Cinematic Arts, from which he graduated in 1983.

After taking on odd jobs directing traffic as a set production assistant and doing some filing work upon returning to New York, it didn't take long for Landau to start making his mark on the industry. Within a couple of years of graduating he'd already landed production supervisor gigs on break dance drama Beat Street and rom-com Key Exchange; within the following two he'd go on to serve as production manager on 1986 cult classic F/X, Michael Mann's Manhunter, and John Malkovich sci-fi rom-com Making Mr. Right.

By the time the 80s were through, Landau had produced his first picture — 1987 comedy Campus Man — and scored big co-producer credits on Disney joints Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and Dick Tracy. In 1989, at not even 30 years of age, Landau was hired as executive vice president of feature film production at Twentieth Century Fox, where he had a hand in guiding the likes of Home Alone, Die Hard 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, Speed, and Last Of The Mohicans amongst others.

It was here at Fox, in 1993, that Landau first crossed path with James Cameron. During the production of Cameron's 1994 actioner True Lies, the duo struck up a bond so strong and so transformative — for both parties — that Landau would eventually jump ship from Fox to Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment to join the maverick filmmaker as he set about making a little indie film you may have heard of called Titanic. Despite a legendarily tumultuous — and costly — production, under Cameron's direction and Landau's stewardship, Titanic would go on to become a global phenomenon both critically and commercially, bagging an astonishing 11 Oscars and making history as the first film to ever cross the billion dollar box office threshold. At the time of its release, Titanic was the highest-grossing movie ever made. The film that would eventually topple its record was Cameron and Landau's own follow-up feature, 2009's groundbreaking 3D blockbuster Avatar.

Cameron and Landau's collaboration would prove to be a lifelong commitment, with Landau going on to produce the aforementioned Avatar, its $2.3 billion grossing sequel Avatar: The Way Of Water, and Robert Rodriguez's Cameron co-written Alita: Battle Angel. Further yet, as COO of Lightstorm Entertainment, Landau — possibly the only person whose passion for all things Pandora matched Cameron's own — poured his enthusiasm, insight, and energy into helping create Walt Disney World's Pandora — The World Of Avatar alongside various spin-off books, comics, and games set within the Avatar universe. At the time of his passing, Landau was still as committed as ever to making his brother in arms' wildly ambitious dreams reality, and was all aboard to produce Avatar 3, 4, and 5.

In a heartfelt tribute posted on Avatar's official Instagram, James Cameron hailed an "indomitable, caring, inclusive, tireless, insightful and utterly unique" man. "A part of myself has been torn away," wrote Cameron of losing his "dear friend" and "closest collaborator". Elsewhere, speaking to THR, Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio remembered an "incredibly kind, wise, and empathetic soul, who wanted to create nothing but a positive impact on anyone or anything approached." It's a sentiment echoed by Avatar's Zoe Saldana, who took to Instagram to mourn the loss of someone whose "wisdom and support shaped so many of us in ways we will always be grateful for."

Across social media, all over the news, and throughout the Hollywood trades, tributes to Jon Landau are legion and effusive in their praise of an industry icon who lived, breathed, and fiercely believed in the power and potential of cinema. With his movies — three of which feature in the top four highest grossing films ever made — having won more than a dozen Oscars and grossed cumulatively over $8 billion dollars at the box office, that Jon Landau was the ultimate Hollywood producer almost goes without saying. But that he was such a genuinely good man, such a passionate champion of the medium, and so instrumental in the lives and careers of so many over the years bears repeating, and speaks to the monumental legacy he leaves behind.

Jon Landau is survived by his wife Julie, their sons Jamie and Jodie, and his two sisters and brother. He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts and deepest condolences are with his friends, family, and loved ones at this time.

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