Indie Film Pioneer Mark Damon Passes Away at 91

Film Industry Icon Mark Damon Passes at 91.

by Nouman Rasool
Indie Film Pioneer Mark Damon Passes Away at 91
© John Shearer/Getty Images

Mark Damon, an icon in the film industry known for his pioneering acting work and executive work, has died at 91. His daughter, Alexis Damon Ribaut, confirmed his death from natural causes in Los Angeles. Damon's storied career spanned well over 60 years, beginning in the 1950s as a young actor.

He got early notice for his role in the 1960 Vincent Price horror classic "House of Usher," and for his series of early performances in the first spaghetti Westerns made in Italy. However, it was this early work of pioneering the reshaping foreign sales and film distribution landscape that marked his significant contribution to the industry.

In the early 1980s, Damon earned huge critical kudos when he executive produced two back-to-back movies for director Wolfgang Petersen, the German-language WWII drama "Das Boot," with six Oscar nominations, and the international fantasy hit "The NeverEnding Story." His pioneering model for wide release focused on the role of independent distributors abroad, a practice he felt could best deliver maximum box office revenue, surpassing the then existing studio systems.

Diverse Cinematic Legacy

Among his many credits, Damon produced or executive produced such diverse films as "9 1/2 Weeks," "Short Circuit," "The Lost Boys," "Stalingrad," and more recently, "Lone Survivor" and "Willy's Wonderland." Among his many productions, he received an Independent Spirit Award with director Patty Jenkins for "Monster," the 2003 film that starred Charlize Theron in her Academy Award-winning performance as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Born Alan Harris in Chicago, Damon’s early life was marked by a passion for the performing arts, studying under renowned acting coaches Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner. His career took a significant turn when he moved to Italy at 28, embarking on a series of roles in Westerns despite having no prior experience with horseback riding.

His adaptability and charm led to a successful acting stint in Europe before shifting his focus back to the business side of cinema in the mid-1970s. Damon’s vision extended beyond the screen; he was instrumental in founding the American Film Marketing Association and authored a memoir detailing his journey through Hollywood’s evolving landscape.

His influence is perhaps best summarized by his own words in a 2014 interview, where he described his legacy as stemming from an actor’s perspective, which allowed him to innovate in the independent film sector uniquely.

He is survived by his second wife, actress Margaret Markov, his son, Jonathan; and his son-in-law, Mathieu. Mark Damon's contributions to film will continue to be remembered as foundational to the independent film movement, reflecting a lifetime of dedication to the art and business of cinema.