Denis O’Brien, Force in Ex-Beatle’s Film Company, Dies at 80

Denis O’Brien, who with George Harrison, the previous Beatle, founded a manufacturing company that made…


Denis O’Brien, who with George Harrison, the previous Beatle, founded a manufacturing company that made many audacious hit films, starting with “Monty Python’s Lifetime of Brian” in 1979, prior to the partnership and the company’s fortunes soured, died on Friday in Swindon, west of London. He was 80.

His daughter Kristen O’Brien said the dying, in a medical center, was brought on by intra-belly sepsis.

Mr. O’Brien turned Mr. Harrison’s business manager in 1973, employed to bring some steadiness to Mr. Harrison’s financial affairs, which experienced been muddled since the Beatles broke up four many years before. And when Mr. Harrison’s pal Eric Idle, of the Monty Python comedy troupe, went to Mr. Harrison with a issue in 1979, it was Mr. O’Brien who nudged Mr. Harrison into developing videos.

Monty Python experienced begun function on a abide by-up to its 1975 strike, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” The new film was a satire about a male who is mistaken for the Messiah. Mr. Idle’s difficulty was that EMI, the entertainment conglomerate that had been funding the new movie, had gotten cold toes and pulled out just as production was gearing up. He requested if Mr. Harrison could assistance financially, and Mr. Harrison in transform consulted Mr. O’Brien.

“Denis referred to as me back a number of days later on and reported, ‘OK, I think I know how to do it: We’ll be the producers,’” Mr. Harrison informed The Advertiser of Australia in 1986. “He was laughing since he realized that my preferred film was ‘The Producers’” — the Mel Brooks comedy — “which I’d watched over and over.”

Mr. Harrison, placing up as collateral his estate in Henley-on-Thames, England, presented some $4 million to make “Monty Python’s Everyday living of Brian.” It was the first launch of Handmade Movies, the output business that he and Mr. O’Brien made. As Mr. Idle told the tale, Mr. Harrison had a basic motive for financing the movie: He wanted to see the motion picture.

“At $4 million, this is however the most any individual has at any time paid out for a motion picture ticket,” Mr. Idle wrote in an essay in The Los Angeles Moments in 2004.

In his telling, Mr. O’Brien experienced essentially structured the job assuming that the film would eliminate revenue and that it could be a tax produce-off in its place, it turned a hit and a beloved entry in the annals of comedy films. Time Out lately rated it No. 3 on its listing of the 100 greatest comedy films of all time, trailing only “Airplane!” and “This Is Spinal Tap.”

With “Brian,” Handmade Films was off on a operate of quirky vital and usually economic successes, including “The Long Fantastic Friday” (1980), a criminal offense drama with Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren “Time Bandits” (1981), directed by Terry Gilliam of the Python troupe and featuring other Pythons the noir drama “Mona Lisa” (1986), another auto for Mr. Hoskins and the comedy “Withnail & I,” which grew to become a form of cult traditional and was rated No. 7 on that Time Out record.

Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Harrison had been government producers on these and quite a few other Handmade films, and their early successes were credited with serving to to revive the moribund British movie market. They shared a flavor for offbeat scripts.

“We are likely to do motion pictures that arrive to us since no a single else would like to make them,” Mr. Harrison advised Newsweek in 1987.

That was certainly the case with “Time Bandits,” a tricky-to-categorize motion picture about time-traveling dwarves that they had difficulty acquiring dispersed, securing a deal with the independent Avco Embassy Images only right after the key studio distributors had declined.

“There were being any number of majors who walked out of the screenings,” Mr. O’Brien informed The Los Angeles Occasions in November 1981, just immediately after the film experienced loved a robust opening weekend.

But Handmade’s Midas touch didn’t last. Some of its flicks ended up highly-priced bombs, most famously “Shanghai Surprise” (1986), a commonly panned experience yarn that starred Madonna and Sean Penn.

By the 1990s the company was in fiscal difficulty, and Mr. Harrison before long turned on his longtime associate, accusing him in a 1995 lawsuit of mishandling his money. A court docket later awarded Mr. Harrison additional than $11 million. When Mr. O’Brien sought to declare individual bankruptcy, Mr. Harrison tried using to block that declaration.

In 2001, when Mr. Harrison, by then sick with most cancers, did not present up to give a deposition in that court docket obstacle, a bankruptcy choose dismissed the case. Mr. Harrison died later that 12 months at 58.

In the many years given that, Mr. O’Brien took most of the criticism for the collapse of Handmade, which was bought in 1994 to a Canadian problem. In a exceptional interview, with The Belleville Information-Democrat of Illinois in 1996, Mr. O’Brien, who lived in the St. Louis area at the time, gave his own interpretation.

“As long as we ended up productive, we experienced a excellent romance,” he mentioned of Mr. Harrison.

“The money is not the crucial factor right here,” he additional. “It wouldn’t make any big difference if it were being a greenback or a million bucks. It’s George not understanding how to acknowledge failure or acquire obligation for it.”

Ms. O’Brien, his daughter, made use of to pay a visit to Mr. Harrison’s estate with her father as a baby, participating in in the elaborate gardens that were being Mr. Harrison’s satisfaction and pleasure. The slipping-out, she said by e-mail, was unpleasant for her father.

“I know he felt just as harm and betrayed as I am sure Harrison felt,” she reported.

Denis James O’Brien was born on Sept. 12, 1941, in St. Louis. His father, Albert, worked for Ralston Purina, wherever he rose to president his mom, Ruth (Foster) O’Brien, was office environment manager for an interior-decorator shop as perfectly as a homemaker.

Mr. O’Brien performed basketball at Webster Groves High College, around St. Louis, prior to earning a bachelor’s diploma at Northwestern College and a regulation diploma at Washington University in St. Louis.

He labored with the Paris legislation firm Coudert Frères from 1967 to 1969, then held finance positions at N.M. Rothschild & Sons and the EuroAtlantic Group, performing out of London.

In 1971 he began advising the comedian actor Peter Sellers, who advised Mr. O’Brien to Mr. Harrison, a friend.

Mr. Harrison was known to delight in Pythonesque humor, but Mr. O’Brien also had a perception of impishness. Michael Palin, 1 of the Pythons, recalled by e-mail that Mr. O’Brien utilised to call him up and fake to be Mr. Sellers. Humorous accents had been a favourite gag — Kristen O’Brien reported that when she or her sister, Laura, would simply call their father, they would from time to time find by themselves speaking to “Fritz the German.”

On “Life of Brian,” Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Harrison allow the Pythons do the filmmaking, but Mr. O’Brien later on grew to become more concerned in the creative aspect of flicks he was financing. His detractors explained this had contributed to the company’s downfall nevertheless, the screenwriter Stephen Rivele (“Ali,” “Nixon”), who with his creating lover, Chris Wilkinson, wrote 7 scripts for Handmade in its afterwards years (nevertheless none had been made), said his encounter with Mr. O’Brien had been favourable.

“On every single draft, he gave careful, handwritten notes, which were often as perceptive as they had been polite,” Mr. Rivele claimed by email. “He experienced quite keen insights and original suggestions which invariably produced the scripts better.”

Mr. O’Brien moved again to England in 2008 immediately after dwelling near St. Louis for a time. At his loss of life he lived in Little Somerford. He was married 4 moments, most lately to Phyllida Riddell O’Brien, who died in 2019. In addition to his daughters — who are from his to start with marriage, to Karen Lazarus — he is survived by a brother, Douglas.

Ms. O’Brien stated that in the past 12 months her father experienced been showing indications of dementia, which appeared to alter his memory of his connection with Mr. Harrison.

“He appeared to have forgotten there was at any time a falling-out,” she stated, “and in this past year he loved to listen to George’s audio, and it would transportation him back again to some truly great instances in his everyday living. He experienced nothing at all but excellent memories remaining.”



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