John Bailey, former president of the Academy and famed cinematographer who worked on films such as Groundhog Day, Ordinary People and As Good as It Gets, has died. He was 81.
Bailey’s wife, the Oscar-nominated film editor and former Academy governor Carol Littleton, said Bailey died peacefully in his sleep early Friday morning. The cause of death is not known, but Littleton said in a statement shared by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that Bailey had been battling an illness.
“It is with deep sadness I share with you that my best friend and husband, John Bailey, passed away peacefully in his sleep early [Friday] morning,” Littleton said. “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.”
Academy CEO Bill Kramer and Academy President Janet Yang released a joint statement remembering Bailey for his dedicated service to the Academy.
“All of us at the Academy are deeply saddened to learn of John’s passing,” they said in a statement. “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 born on Aug. 10, 1942 in Moberly, Missouri but was raised in Southern California, where he attended Pius X High School in Downey, California. He was editor of the school newspaper and later attended Santa Clara University before transferring to Loyola Marymount University. He graduated in 1964. He’d ultimately pursue a career in film and studied it for two years at the University of Southern California.
He began his career as an assistant cameraman on the 1971 film Two Lane Blacktop and became a cinematographer in 1978. Bailey’s precision and attentiveness to his craft paved the way for a career that spanned nearly five decades and included working on hits such as Groundhog Day, As Good as It Gets, Ordinary People, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, to name a few.
He became a member of the Cinematographers Branch of the Academy in 1981 and then served 15 years as an Academy governor before serving two terms as Academy President from 2017 to 2019, making him the first cinematographer to hold the position.
Bailey is survived by his wife. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Academy Foundation in memory of Bailey.