Don Simpson passes away

Critics hated their bigger-is-better aesthetic and glossy style, but the duo knew what sold: Flashdance, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, and its first sequel together earned more than $1.4 billion. The two were so close they shared a desk. Simpson was the "idea man," which allowed him to indulge in substance abuse while using all the built-in excuses Hollywood reserves for the creative. Bruckheimer acted as a liaison to the sets and the studios, running the show while Simpson disappeared to Canyon Ranch, an elite Arizona spa, to battle his weight and recover from his benders.

The pair seemed infallible when, in January 1990, they signed a five-year deal with Paramount, said to be worth $300 million and egocentrically touted in trade ads as no less than a "visionary alliance." But only two weeks later, on the set of Days of Thunder, it began to fall apart. The producers later claimed that when Paramount asked them to rush through production for a summer release, the budget escalated and the studio balked; other reports suggested that the producers were spending money with reckless glee. When Paramount and the producers acrimoniously parted ways soon after, Simpson and Bruckheimer found they were no longer granted the latitude to which they'd become accustomed. "We do everything without consulting with anyone or asking anyone's permission," Simpson had said on the Thunder set. That would never be true again.

Increasingly, Simpson, who had never bothered to employ tact in his dealings with journalists or colleagues, found himself held to a harsher standard. Articles focused on his status as a "party animal" and "wild man" — see-through euphemisms for a drug-dependent producer who cared more about staying up late than getting to work the next day. Simpson didn't seem to grasp the repercussions of his actions, chafing at every unflattering piece. "He had an idealistic, adolescent sense of what was fair," says screenwriter Robert Towne, a friend.

When Simpson and Bruckheimer moved to Disney in 1991 under a new, nonexclusive production deal, three filmless years followed, which only increased the industry's perception of the two as relics. When they finally managed to get one movie — the Denis Leary comedy The Ref — on screen in 1994, its unimpressive grosses did little to increase confidence.

The tide began to turn with Columbia's Bad Boys, a signal to Hollywood that in the leaner '90s, the pair knew how to produce a film for less and still sell tickets. Their luck only improved: Last summer's Crimson Tide made $91 million, and Dangerous Minds was a classic Simpson/Bruckheimer winner — a brutal reedit after test screenings, a hit soundtrack, terrible reviews, and a pundit-defying box office tally of $85 million.

But Simpson's personal troubles were mounting. "He'd been taking uppers and downers," says Towne. "He took speed to work, and then he'd take downers to come down. Speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down. Sooner or later, the body rebels." Says screenwriter James Toback (Bugsy), "I know that both [David] Geffen and [Jeffrey] Katzenberg had pressured him to go into a program." Last August, Simpson asked endocrinologist Dr. John O'Dea to make a house call; his weight, a friend estimated, had ballooned to 235, and he was depressed. Although Simpson canceled that appointment, he later told O'Dea he had not done illicit drugs for six to eight months but was taking prescribed medication, including an anti-manic drug and an amphetamine derivative.


From Our Partners