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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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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.