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Music executive and film producer Saul Zaentz dies at 92

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Saul Zaentz, the music industry executive who became a film producer for three movies that won Academy Awards for "Best Picture", has died at the age of 92, his nephew Paul Zaentz said on Saturday.

Zaentz died on Friday at his San Francisco area home from complications related to Alzheimer's disease, Paul Zaentz said.

Zaentz is best known for being a producer for acclaimed films including the 1975 movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "Amadeus" in 1984 and "The English Patient" in 1996. All three were awarded Oscars for best picture.

"He was an amazing man," said nephew Paul Zaentz, who is also a movie producer. "He always taught me to only make films I am passionate about."

Zaentz was born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1921 and later joined the U.S. Army, where he served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, according to his nephew.

Zaentz settled in San Francisco in the early 1950s and worked as a concert tour manager for American jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan.

In the 1950s, Zaentz helped found Fantasy Records, the jazz label that in the late 1960s helped launch Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) to international fame.

Eventually, the band and Fantasy Records parted ways acrimoniously, and the record label gained control of the rights to the group's song catalog.

Saul Zaentz also had a long running legal battle with lead singer John Fogerty over rights to songs.

After Fogerty released his solo comeback album "Centerfield" in 1985, Zaentz sued the singer for copyright infringement, claiming that a song on the new album contained essentially the same chorus as CCR's 1970 hit "Run Through the Jungle."

"He had an extreme sense of right and wrong, and if he felt he was being wronged he'd go after it," nephew Paul Zaentz said.

Zaentz's lawsuit also claimed Fogerty had defamed him on two other "Centerfield" songs, one called "Mr. Greed" and another called "Zanz Kant Danz."

Zaentz eventually lost the copyright portion of the case, and in an appeal that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, was made to pay Fogerty's legal fees.

"Saul never commented on statements John made about him over the years, but the songs affected his children," Paul Zaentz said.

Zaentz later became one of the most influential producers in Hollywood with a movie career launched later in life.

In the early 1970s, he teamed up with actor Michael Douglas to co-produce his first big film project, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

A bespectacled Zaentz with a thick white beard then went on to serve as a producer on critically acclaimed movies that also included "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "Goya's Ghosts".

Twice divorced, Zaentz is survived by two ex-wives, four children and seven grandchildren, his nephew said.

(Reporting By Chris Francescani; Editing by Diane Craft)

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