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Sam Mercer, Producer of M. Night Shyamalan Films, Dies at 69

Sam Mercer, who produced eight M. Night Shyamalan films starting with the spooky blockbuster The Sixth Sense, has died. He was 69.

Mercer died Feb. 12 at his home in South Pasadena after a battle with younger-onset Alzheimer’s, his wife, Tegan Jones, told The Hollywood Reporter.

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Mercer was seen as an out-of-the-box hire when he joined Industrial Light & Magic in September 2015 to oversee and coordinate activities of the VFX giant’s studios in San Francisco, Vancouver, London and Singapore. However, he left the next year after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Mercer began his career as a location manager on films including Stripes (1981), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and The Witches of Eastwick (1987).

He joined Disney and was a production executive on such features as Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Dead Poets Society (1989), and as a production vp at Hollywood Pictures, he oversaw the release of films including Arachnophobia (1990), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), The Joy Luck Club (1993) and Quiz Show (1994).

Mercer produced Congo (1995) and The Relic (1997) at Paramount before connecting with Shyamalan on the writer-director’s The Sixth Sense (1999), distributed by Disney. Starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, it raked in $673 million worldwide as the No. 2 grossing movie of the year, behind only The Phantom Menace.

The pair then collaborated on the Shyamalan-directed Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010) and on the Shyamalan co-written Devil (2010).

“Sam and I started working together when I was in my mid-twenties,” Shyamalan said in a statement. “He taught me that the culture of a set comes from the top down. He led with kindness and showed me how to navigate pressure with grace. He was the best big brother I could have hoped for.

“He made every movie a family, and I’ve tried to emulate that in every film since. He made me laugh and took care of me at the same time. He did this with everyone. I’ll never forget his perfectly neat desk, his gentle eyes and his magical ability to convey that everything was going to be OK. When he was around, that was always true.”

A native of Weston, Massachusetts, Samuel Loring Mercer was the youngest of four sons. He attended the Groton School and Occidental College before making his way to Hollywood.

His producing résumé also included Van Helsing (2004), Jarhead (2005), Things We Lost in the Fire (2007), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Heaven Is for Real (2014), The BFG (2016) and Concrete Cowboy (2020), written and directed by Ricky Staub, his former assistant.

“Working for Sam changed the entire trajectory of my life,” Staub said in a statement. “He showed me how filmmaking could be a transformative experience for a crew and not just a job. It’s the in-between moments I cherish the most: the walks to lunch, him jokingly calling me ‘Ricky Bobby,’ the late nights when it was just us with pages of spreadsheets. In his passing, I am filled with immense gratitude that I got to experience, firsthand, this man’s beautiful legacy.”

In addition to his wife, survivors include his children, Miles and Sierra. Donations in his memory can be made to Lorenzo’s House.

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