Laura Ziskin, the producer of Pretty Woman and the Spider-Man films, and a forceful advocate for health and environmental issues, died Sunday of breast cancer at her home in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 61.
Laura Ziskin fought a seven-year battle with the disease, yet remained one of the business' busiest producers and a champion of causes close to her heart, including Stand Up 2 Cancer, the non-profit org she helped launch in 2008. The organization wrangled dozens of stars to participate in telethons in 2008 and 2010 that ran across multiple networks and generated $180 million in donations for cancer research.
Earlier this year, she was honored by the Producers Guild of America with its Visionary Award. She earned the PGA's David O. Selznick life achievement kudo in 2005.
On the big screen, Laura Ziskin steered one of the most successful film franchises in Box office history as the producer of Sony Pictures' Spider-Man series. The first three pics in the series that began in 2002 broke Box Office records around the globe, with Spider-Man 3 ranking as the highest-grossing pic in the history of Sony Pictures.
The fourth installment, a reboot with a new cast, wrapped production last month.
Laura Ziskin was working on Spider-Man 2 in 2004 when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, which had been overlooked by mammograms. "I was a lucky girl: Nothing bad ever happened to me, and then it did," Ziskin told Variety in January.
Friends and colleagues admired her determination not to let the illness slow her down.
Along with contemporaries that included the late Dawn Steel and Sherry Lansing, Ziskin was part of a generation of showbiz women who braved gender bias to rise to prominence as execs and producers in the 1980s and 1990s. During her long career, Ziskin segued easily between roles as an exec and as a producer. She produced or exec produced such notable pics as Pretty Woman, What About Bob?, Hero, To Die For and As Good As It Gets. She exec produced the Oscarcast in 2002, marking the first time a solo femme took the reins of the live telecast, and again in 2007.
Ziskin was active in numerous social and philanthropic initiatives, having served on the board of Americans for a Safe Future, the National Council of Jewish Women and Education First.
Ziskin's survivors include her husband, Alvin, and daughter, Julia.
A memorial is being planned. The family requests that donations be made to Stand Up 2 Cancer through the organization's website, standup2cancer.org.