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Fred Roos, ‘Godfather Part II’ producer and longtime Coppola collaborator, dies at 89

Executive Producer Fred Roos poses at The U.S. Premiere of Focus Features "The Beguiled" at Directors Guild of America on Monday, June 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. Roos, the Oscar-winning producer of “The Godfather Part II” who helped launch the careers of numerous superstars from Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise, died at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., Saturday, May, 18, 2024, a representative said Tuesday, May 21. He was 89. Associated Press File Photo

Fred Roos, the Oscar-winning producer of “The Godfather Part II” who helped launch the careers of numerous superstars from Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise, has died. He was 89.

He died at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Saturday, a representative said Tuesday, just days after his and Francis Ford Coppola’s latest film “Megalopolis” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Roos and Coppola worked together for over 50 years, starting with “The Godfather,” where he advised on the casting of Al Pacino and James Caan against the wishes of the studio, and introduced Coppola to John Cazale. He also produced Coppola's best picture nominees “The Conversation,” “Apocalypse Now” and Parts II and III of “The Godfather.”

“Fred Roos possessed a casting instinct that was near infallible,” Coppola wrote on Instagram. “He was a great lifelong friend and collaborator with above all a true love for movies.”

The stories about his impact on some of the biggest films of all time, from the Godfather trilogy to “Star Wars,” are the stuff of Hollywood legend. While developing “Star Wars,” George Lucas asked Roos for his thoughts. Lucas got the screenplay back from Roos with several names scribbled on it: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and James Earl Jones. Roos also helped assemble the young casts for Lucas' “American Graffiti” and “The Outsiders,” introducing wide audiences to the likes of Cruise, Ford, Diane Lane, Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon and Patrick Swayze.

“I always like to think that actors I put in my movie are going to become stars and we’ll hear from again,” he said in an interview about casting “The Outsiders.”

Sometimes it took some convincing, like getting Ford in as Han Solo. In 2004, Ford said, “Once he believes in you, he is unrelenting. He kept putting me up for parts and I kept getting rejected. Finally things worked out.”

Other Roos discoveries include Diane Keaton, Laurence Fishburne, Emilio Estevez, Jennifer Connelly and Alden Ehrenreich.

“It’s always kind of intangible. Just a feeling I have about somebody,” Roos said of his ability to spot talent in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2016. “A lot of people that I’ve been associated with are like that. Jack Nicholson. Harrison. They don’t quite fit any mold.”

Roos was born in Santa Monica, California, on May 22, 1934, and raised in Riverside and Los Angeles, where he attended high school at the famous Hollywood High. After graduating from UCLA in 1956, he was drafted and served two tours in Korea with the Army, one alongside Garry Marshall.

He long had a fascination with film, and got his foot in the door working in the mailroom at a talent agency, MCA, Inc, where one of his odd jobs was driving Marilyn Monroe around. Soon he was casting for television shows like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “That Girl.”

His film breakthrough came with Richard Lester’s infidelity drama “Petulia” with Julie Christie and George C. Scott, which came out in 1968.

“Work just flowed to me after that,” Roos said.

That included work for the likes of John Huston (“Fat City”), Michelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point”), Monte Hellman (“Two-Lane Blacktop”) and Bob Rafelson (“Five Easy Pieces”).

Roos and Coppola would get two best picture nominations in the same year for “The Godfather Part II” and “The Conversation,” winning for the former. Other films he produced for Coppola included “One from the Heart,” “Rumble Fish,” “The Cotton Club,” “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” and “Tetro.”

The Coppola collaboration also extended to the family. Roos produced the late Eleanor Coppola ’s Emmy-winning documentary “Hearts of Darkness” about the making of “Apocalypse Now,” and was especially proud about helping her make her 2016 film “Paris Can Wait.”

He also had a hand in all of Sofia Coppola’s films, including “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation,” introducing her to actors like Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Elle Fanning and Cailee Spaeny, who starred in her latest “Priscilla.” Sometimes he'd suggest well-known people for roles too, as with Colin Farrell in “The Beguiled.”

Outside of the Coppola orbit, he produced Nicholson's directorial debut “Drive, He Said,” Carroll Ballard’s “The Black Stallion” and Agnieszka Holland’s “The Secret Garden.” He also played a part in getting S.E. Hinton and American Zoetrope to bring “The Outsiders” to Broadway. Last month, it earned 12 Tony nominations.

Roos is survived by his son, Alexander “Sandy” Roos, who was also his producing partner, and his wife, Nancy Drew.

“(He) was determined to never retire from the film business and to go with his boots on,” his son said in a statement. “He got his wish.”

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