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John Bailey, the cinematographer whose credits including Oscar Best Picture-winning Ordinary People and The Big Chill and who became president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 81.
”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,” his wife Carol Littleton, an Oscar-nominated film editor and former Academy governor, said in a statement provided by AMPAS this evening. “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.”
In addition to Ordinary People, which was directed by Robert Redford and won four Oscars in 1981, Bailey’s resume included The Big Chill, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist, Groundhog Day, In the Line of Fire, As Good as It Gets, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Must Love Dogs across a five-decade career.
Bailey began his career as an assistant cameraman on the 1971 film Two Lane Blacktop.
A member of the Academy’s Cinematographers Branch since 1981, Bailey served 15 years as an Academy governor and two terms as president from 2017-2019. He was the first cinematographer to hold that position.
During his time at the Academy, he was vice president and chair of the Preservation and History Committee, serving as the AMPAS’ representative on the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Board. His committee work included for the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Film Scholar and Grants, International Outreach, the Science and Technology Council, Membership Screenings and In Memoriam committees, as well as the former Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee.
“All of us at the Academy are deeply saddened to learn of John’s passing,” Academy CEO Bill Kramer and Academy president Janet Yang said. “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.”
Bailey was also a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, serving as secretary and vice president on its board of governors. He was given the ASC’s Lifetime Achievement Award in February 2015.
The family requests in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Bailey’s memory to the Academy Foundation.