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June 13th, 2011
03:44 PM ET

Stand Up to Cancer's Laura Ziskin dies at 61

Late last night, the world lost an incredible woman,  producer and cancer advocate when the disease took the life of Laura Ziskin after a seven-year battle. She was 61.

You may not know Laura Ziskin's name, but you've seen her movies. She was the executive producer of "Pretty Woman," produced "As Good as it Gets" and all three "Spiderman" movies, and she oversaw production on the cult classic "Fight Club." She was also the first woman to ever produce the Oscar ceremony alone. When I met Laura, she was producing the "Stand Up to Cancer" telethon last September.

When I entered the Sony Pictures lot for the event, it was abuzz with activity - workers were building the red carpet where dozens of celebrities would walk later that day to show their support for the fight against cancer. Trailer after trailer was buzzing with production staff, talent coordinators, writers, producers, photographers - and all of this, under the direction of Laura, who at the time, was in between chemo treatments for stage 4 breast cancer. (Watch Laura Ziskin at TEDMED discussing her cancer battle.)

When she sat down for an interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta – she carved 10 minutes out of her very busy day – physically, you could see the toll cancer had taken on her body. Mentally though, she was sharp as a tack, shepherding hundreds of staffers to produce what would be a moving and informative telethon.

Later that evening celebrities from George Clooney and Tony Hawk to Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Dorothy Hamill, Marcia Cross and our own Dr. Gupta took the stage to show their support for the war on cancer. This was Laura's magnum opus.

Laura had founded Stand Up to Cancer just three years earlier, along with newswoman Katie Couric, former Paramount Pictures executive Sherry Lansing, and several women from the Entertainment Industry Foundation. This relatively young organization has already raised more than $200 million for cancer research. That money is funneled directly to "dream teams" of doctors around the globe working on cancer treatments that could be at a patient's bedside within years, not decades.

As Laura's daughter Julia once told a magazine writer, "Cancer f-–d with the wrong woman," and she was right. Laura let nothing – not even a little chemo – stand in the way of the cause. Standing up to a disease that would ultimately, just nine months later, take her life.


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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Geri

    Rest in pease, Laura. Thank you for your efforts to raise money for cancer research. I am one of the survivors...

    June 13, 2011 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jimh77

      It's unfortunate Cancer research is just about collecting money and supporting mfg's machines and all the other components that goes with it. The FDA is not about to find or allow a cure for cancer which has been done in 1977. Non evasive, non toxic cure that worked until the FDA stole all the patents and re-filed them. As for the ACS, they are in the pockets of Big Brother. It is all about money, not cures. Just toxic sludge being injected in people and treatments like radiation. All unneccessary. All just to make money in the trillions each year. The cure has been destroyed. Don't believe me, do some research.

      June 13, 2011 at 21:46 | Report abuse |
  2. Veto

    Nice woman, noble ambitions, but all the money raised to fight cancer does very little other than provide a pallative care support network (not a bad thing really at all). This is because there is a hidden agenda of drug companies, and probably even hospitals "cancer treatment centers" to make sure no cure is ever found, lest they lose profits from "treating the sick".

    June 13, 2011 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nelly

      you obviously have no clue about what happened in the last decades in cancer research and more importantly what's happening now. I and many of my colleagues would be the happiest people on earth if we could quit our job (cancer research). Go into a clinic with kids suffering from cancer – 80% of them now survive and grow up as adults due to what happened in the past decades – and tell their parents that this is all just a conspiracy of drug companies and cancer hospitals.

      June 13, 2011 at 19:20 | Report abuse |
  3. John of The Cheebahawk

    Coming from a multiple cancer survivor – Rest in Peace and Thank You for your contributions to society and in turn the extension of my life.

    June 13, 2011 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ctb67

    Ya know? I kind of take offense to the term cancer "survivor". It kinda leaves those that didn't survive seem like something less, like they didn't fight with their last breath....belittles them somehow. I have lost my mother and many dear friends to cancer, and none of them were weak, or gave up. You have all these shops popping up "survivor gals" etc....and it seems like a badge of courage, or for some even a chip on the shoulder. I understand raising money, but should we raise them above the fallen fighters? And they were fighters in the truest sense. I told one of the women at my church who is a breast cancer survivor and she stopped cold.....she no longer touts that she is a survivor....Imagine the family of a war veteran...kudos if they came back alive, nothing if they came back in a box. ...at least to me it seems crass.. Perhaps a different term would be in order..

    June 13, 2011 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cmh

      Exactly what word do you want to use? People survive cancer or they don't. How is calling someone who lived thru it a survivor demeaning to someone who didn't? I certainly don't believe that if someone dies of cancer that it was because they did not fight hard enough or not worthy enough to live. Nor do I believe that if you survive cancer that you are necessarily a great fighter or you are someone super special. I survived pediatric cancer 25 ago years and I'm pretty sure it was just luck and medicine. Cancer sucks and the randomness of getting it and surviving it also sucks. Maybe you are the one with chip on your shoulder. And please feel free to call me whatever you want. Frankly I never use the term survivor to describe myself – I simply say I had cancer and I hope it stays in the 'had'.

      June 13, 2011 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
    • Valerie

      YOU take "offense"? You should be on your knees and thanking God every single day for your health. I know I am thankful! Wow. What a cold thing to write............

      June 14, 2011 at 08:31 | Report abuse |
    • Mahogany

      ctb67, I'm curious to know what terminology you would suggest. I can see your perspective, but I don't agree with it. I think that you should look further into what survivor means to cancer patients. I believe, among other things, it gives hope to newly diagnosed patients. My best friend's mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and we, her support system, immediately gave her names of survivors of breast cancer to give her hope. I don't believe anyone judges patients who have lost their battles to cancer as weak or inferior....as if they didn't put up a fight. We all have to die from something, no one is invincible. I don't think responders to your post should have written out of anger. It's like no one discusses things anymore...we shout, name call, and don't listen to the other side. All that does it causes the other person to become defensive, which causes arguments, and nothing is settled. I understand the anger, but I don't believe that's the best way to respond. If people simply told you what "survivor" meant to them or gave their personal testimony, you would have a clearer understanding of how important it is to be called a survivor. You may even have a change of heart.

      June 14, 2011 at 09:54 | Report abuse |
    • WSM1008

      The meaning of Survivor " One who survives or outlives another person, or any time, event, or thing". I'm a survivor of Stage 3 Breast Cancer only because I have survived the cancer so far, not to say it will not come back in other form, but today I'm a survivor.

      June 17, 2011 at 14:28 | Report abuse |
    • Sanjay

      yes the word 'survivor' does somehow seem to disrespect those who could not make. My mother did not make it although she suffered for nine months. At various stages I was amazed by her strength. Pf course she was also diagnosed at very late stage.

      June 18, 2011 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
  5. But I Get Up Again

    There is a wonderful website (not mine) that offers free websites for cancer patients, their families and caregivers:
    http://www.mylifeline.org/

    June 13, 2011 at 18:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. jhk

    check out http://www.beautybus.org .. simply amazing

    June 14, 2011 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. jess

    Hope you are finally resting in peace! The world lost a true star and heaven gained one today. You are one in a million.

    June 14, 2011 at 01:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ks4455

    ctb67 have you ever had cancer? If not then I think you should close your mouth. Here let me educate you. I am a cancer SURVIVOR which does not just mean I survived the initial diagnosis. If you would do a little research into what exactly it means to survive cancer you would know that each day a cancer patient lives they are considered a cancer survivor. Being a cancer survivor that is recognized is a clear indication that research has continued to progress over the years. So that more and more of us will be treated and continue to live long and healthy lives as opposed to losing our life to a dreaded disease. Another bit of educational advice for you: In the 1960's Hodgkins Lymphoma was the most deadly form of cancer, in 2009 I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma STAGE 4 and was told it was the most curable form of cancer. Two years I am now in remission and you better bet I scream that loud and proud every chance I get. WHY?? because I am still here and living life. My heart hurts for those that didn't win their battle over cancer but I can assure you that doesn't mean I shouldn't be proud of the fact I did. If I went to church with you and you said something about my preaching my surviving cancer I would slap you. Until you have fought the fight you have no right to say anything. I am sorry you have experienced loss within your family due to cancer, however I am sure if they had survived you would tell everyone that your family members are cancer survivors, or who knows maybe you wouldn't because to you surviving cancer clearly is not that big of a deal. What a joke you are!!!

    June 14, 2011 at 07:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. prevent

    I totally respect all the people that focus their energy on "curing" cancer. But, we need to focus less on raising money for drug companies to save the day with a cure and put alot more energy into preventing the cancers in the first place!

    We need to get the cancer causing chemicals out of our homes and food supply.

    ALL of these hosehold cleaning products contain CANCER causing ingredients.

    TIDE AND CHEER- Trisodium Nitrilotriacetate
    CREST- Saccharin
    DOVE- bht
    LYSOL-DIOXIN

    June 14, 2011 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Janet Galea

    It always amazes me when people choose to turn something like this into their private soap box. Laura Ziskin was unlucky to be diagnosed at late stage breast cancer through no fault of her own. She had a diffuse cancer that was incredibly difficult to diagnose. I am the same age and was lucky to have a very non-aggressive breast cancer diagnosed in 2005. I am a survivor...I am here and have been cancer free since the date of my surgery. I am here – just as many others are – because so much has been done in the past decades regarding treatment and medicine for breast cancer and many other types of cancer. Just as there is no one cause of cancer there will not be one cure. Thank God for warriors like Laura who turned her energy into creating Stand Up 2 Cancer. May she rest in peace and may each of you who have nothing good to say....say nothing at all.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.