Denis O’Brien, Drive in Ex-Beatle’s Movie Firm, Dies at 80

Yoshiko Yap

Denis O’Brien, who with George Harrison, the former Beatle, launched a output business that made numerous audacious hit flicks, starting with “Monty Python’s Lifestyle 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 stated the death, in a healthcare facility, was prompted by intra-abdominal sepsis.

Mr. O’Brien became Mr. Harrison’s enterprise manager in 1973, hired to bring some stability to Mr. Harrison’s money affairs, which experienced been muddled considering that the Beatles broke up four yrs earlier. And when Mr. Harrison’s good friend Eric Idle, of the Monty Python comedy troupe, went to Mr. Harrison with a trouble in 1979, it was Mr. O’Brien who nudged Mr. Harrison into making motion pictures.

Monty Python had begun work on a comply with-up to its 1975 strike, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” The new movie was a satire about a guy who is mistaken for the Messiah. Mr. Idle’s trouble was that EMI, the entertainment conglomerate that experienced been financing the new motion picture, experienced gotten cold ft and pulled out just as production was gearing up. He requested if Mr. Harrison could enable economically, and Mr. Harrison in transform consulted Mr. O’Brien.

“Denis referred to as me back a handful of times later and reported, ‘OK, I assume I know how to do it: We’ll be the producers,’” Mr. Harrison advised The Advertiser of Australia in 1986. “He was laughing due to the fact he knew that my favorite film was ‘The Producers’” — the Mel Brooks comedy — “which I’d watched over and above.”

Mr. Harrison, putting up as collateral his estate in Henley-on-Thames, England, provided some $4 million to make “Monty Python’s Daily life of Brian.” It was the initial release of Handmade Films, the generation business that he and Mr. O’Brien made. As Mr. Idle advised the story, Mr. Harrison experienced a straightforward cause for financing the film: He wanted to see the motion picture.

“At $4 million, this is continue to the most anybody has at any time paid for a film ticket,” Mr. Idle wrote in an essay in The Los Angeles Times in 2004.

In his telling, Mr. O’Brien had really structured the project assuming that the film would shed revenue and that it could be a tax publish-off as an alternative, it became a strike and a beloved entry in the annals of comedy movies. Time Out not long ago rated it No. 3 on its list of the 100 best comedy flicks of all time, trailing only “Airplane!” and “This Is Spinal Tap.”

With “Brian,” Handmade Movies was off on a run of quirky important and normally economic successes, like “The Extensive Very good Friday” (1980), a criminal offense drama with Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren “Time Bandits” (1981), directed by Terry Gilliam of the Python troupe and that includes other Pythons the noir drama “Mona Lisa” (1986), yet another automobile for Mr. Hoskins and the comedy “Withnail & I,” which turned a form of cult classic and was ranked No. 7 on that Time Out list.

Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Harrison ended up government producers on these and various other Handmade movies, and their early successes had been credited with helping to revive the moribund British movie industry. They shared a flavor for offbeat scripts.

“We tend to do flicks that come to us simply because no a person else wants to make them,” Mr. Harrison told Newsweek in 1987.

That was unquestionably the circumstance with “Time Bandits,” a hard-to-categorize motion picture about time-touring dwarves that they had issues finding distributed, securing a offer with the unbiased Avco Embassy Images only right after the main studio distributors had declined.

“There were any quantity of majors who walked out of the screenings,” Mr. O’Brien informed The Los Angeles Occasions in November 1981, just soon after the film experienced appreciated a strong opening weekend.

But Handmade’s Midas contact did not very last. Some of its films were being costly bombs, most famously “Shanghai Surprise” (1986), a broadly panned journey yarn that starred Madonna and Sean Penn.

By the 1990s the organization was in economical trouble, and Mr. Harrison soon turned on his longtime spouse, accusing him in a 1995 lawsuit of mishandling his funds. A courtroom later awarded Mr. Harrison far more than $11 million. When Mr. O’Brien sought to declare individual bankruptcy, Mr. Harrison experimented with to block that declaration.

In 2001, when Mr. Harrison, by then sick with most cancers, did not display up to give a deposition in that courtroom challenge, a individual bankruptcy decide dismissed the case. Mr. Harrison died later on that yr at 58.

In the decades given that, Mr. O’Brien took most of the criticism for the collapse of Handmade, which was marketed in 1994 to a Canadian issue. In a scarce job interview, with The Belleville News-Democrat of Illinois in 1996, Mr. O’Brien, who lived in the St. Louis region at the time, gave his very own interpretation.

“As extended as we had been effective, we experienced a fantastic romantic relationship,” he said of Mr. Harrison.

“The funds is not the critical aspect right here,” he extra. “It would not make any variance if it ended up a greenback or a million dollars. It is George not understanding how to accept failure or choose responsibility for it.”

Ms. O’Brien, his daughter, applied to stop by Mr. Harrison’s estate with her father as a boy or girl, taking part in in the elaborate gardens that were Mr. Harrison’s pride and pleasure. The falling-out, she claimed by electronic mail, was painful for her father.

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

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

Mr. O’Brien performed basketball at Webster Groves Large University, near St. Louis, just before earning a bachelor’s diploma at Northwestern University and a regulation degree at Washington College in St. Louis.

He labored with the Paris law business Coudert Frères from 1967 to 1969, then held finance positions at N.M. Rothschild & Sons and the EuroAtlantic Team, working out of London.

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

Mr. Harrison was known to get pleasure from Pythonesque humor, but Mr. O’Brien also had a perception of impishness. Michael Palin, 1 of the Pythons, recalled by email that Mr. O’Brien employed to simply call him up and fake to be Mr. Sellers. Funny accents had been a most loved gag — Kristen O’Brien mentioned that when she or her sister, Laura, would contact their father, they would occasionally come across by themselves speaking to “Fritz the German.”

On “Life of Brian,” Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Harrison enable the Pythons do the filmmaking, but Mr. O’Brien later became much more involved in the innovative aspect of motion pictures he was funding. His detractors said this experienced contributed to the company’s downfall even so, the screenwriter Stephen Rivele (“Ali,” “Nixon”), who with his creating spouse, Chris Wilkinson, wrote seven scripts for Handmade in its later several years (nevertheless none were produced), explained his encounter with Mr. O’Brien experienced been constructive.

“On every single draft, he gave cautious, handwritten notes, which ended up always as perceptive as they have been well mannered,” Mr. Rivele explained by e-mail. “He had really eager insights and original ideas which invariably built the scripts superior.”

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

Ms. O’Brien said that in the past year her father experienced been displaying signals of dementia, which appeared to change his memory of his romantic relationship with Mr. Harrison.

“He appeared to have overlooked there was at any time a slipping-out,” she stated, “and in this very last yr he cherished to hear George’s music, and it would transport him back again to some genuinely fantastic occasions in his existence. He had very little but fantastic memories left.”

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