Cinematographer John Bailey Dies at 81; He Served as Academy President

Cinematographer John Bailey Dies at 81; He Served as Academy President

Photo by Tig Productions – © 1994

Cinematographer John Bailey died on November 10 in Los Angeles at the age of 81.
In addition to his creative work on such films as “American Gigolo,” “Ordinary People,” “Mishima : A Life in Four Chapters,” “Groundhog Day, and “As Good as It Gets,” Bailey served two terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (2017-2019). He was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award the American Society of Cinematographers in 2015.

Announcement of his passing was made by his wife, Carol Littleton, herself an Oscar-nominated film editor. In a statement, she said: “ It is with deep sadness I share with you that my best friend and husband, John Bailey, passed away peacefully in his sleep early this morning. During John’s illness, we reminisced how we met 60 years ago and were married for 51 of those years. We shared a wonderful life of adventure in film and made many long-lasting friendships along the way. John will forever live in my heart.”

Among the directors he worked with during his four-decade career have been Michael Apted, Robert Benton, Callie Khouri, Ken Kwapis, Wolfgang Peterson, Robert Redford, Sam Raimi, Stuart Rosenberg, and Paul Schrader.

In 2020, Bailey was quoted in an interview for American Cinematographer magazine as saying: “I did not want to do tawdry films. I did not want to do exploitive films or violent ones. I really held out, sometimes at great personal expense, literally, in terms of money, to do films that I knew were building a résumé that when I did become a director of photography, that was part of who I was.”

From 2017 to 2019, Bailey served what he had described as two “stressful” terms as president of the Academy, a period marked by controversy over issues raised by the #metoo movement, among other things. At the 2018 Oscars luncheon, Bailey declared: “I may be a 75-year-old white male, but I’m every bit as gratified as the youngest of you here that the fossilized bedrock of many of Hollywood’s worst abuses are being jackhammered into oblivion.”

Born in Moberly, Missouri on August 10, 1942 John Ira Bailey grew up in Norwalk, California and studied film at USC after graduating from Loyola Marymount University. After working as an apprentice on various films in the 1970s, he had a breakthrough with American Gigolo and Ordinary People, both released in 1980. Bailey also directed several films of his own, including “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” (1991), “China Moon” (1994), “Mariette in Ecstasy” (1996) and “Via Dolorosa (2000).”

In a joint statement issued after Bailey’s passing on Friday, current Academy CEO Bill Kramer joined with president Janet Yang to say: “All of us at the Academy are deeply saddened to learn of John’s passing. John was a passionately engaged member of the Academy and the film community. He served as our president and as an Academy governor for many years and played a leadership role on the cinematographers branch. His impact and contributions to the film community will forever be remembered. Our thoughts and support are with Carol at this time.”

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