Gareth Wigan, the London-born executive who played an integral production role in such classics as Star Wars, Chariots Of Fire and Alien has died.

Wigan, the London-born executive who played an integral production role in such classics as Star Wars, Chariots Of Fire and Alien and in later life championed local language productions for Sony, has died following a brief illness. He was 78.

Wigan died at his Los Angeles on Saturday and is survived by his wife, Pat Newcomb, his four children and seven grandchildren.

He began his career as an agent in the UK office of MCA in the late 1950’s, before going on to form his own talent agency in the mid 60’s.

In 1970 he took up a post as studio executive at 20th Centry Fox, where he worked on Star Wars, Alien and The Turning Point. He went on to form The Ladd Company with fellow Fox Executives Alan Ladd Jr. and Jay Kanter, where he helped to develop and produced Chariots of Fire and The Right Stuff.

In 1987 Wigan joined Sony’s Columbia Pictures as production consultant before going on to become co-vice chairman of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group where he was instrumental in films such as Air Force One, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Sense And Sensibility.

During the last decade of his life Wigan became a pioneer for global cinema, championing film-makers such as Ang Lee, Stephen Chow and Matthew Vaughn.

Trubtes have been pouring in from Hollywood from some of the biggest names in the industry today, with George Lucas calling him a “real supporter of creative talent”, adding that “he was one of the most kind and thoughtful executives I’ve ever worked with.”

Ang Lee, who worked with Wigan on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, said, “To my mind, Gareth Wigan was a unique figure in the movie business.He was a true English gentleman, a great soul. He made quality films, and he was also a pioneer of studio investment in foreign films.”

Martin Scorsese added, “I have fond memories of our work together on The Age of Innocence. I’ve often wished we could have worked on another production as I’ve always had great admiration for Gareth’s intelligence, diplomacy and taste.”

Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment who worked with Wigan for close to 25 years, said, “Gareth was an inspirational and passionate leader. His love of movies and filmmakers was as rare and unique as the brilliant films he championed over the last four decades. We will miss him terribly.”

“I had the wonderful experience of working with Gareth as he developed and ramped up Sony’s international production mandate, ” Sal Ladestro, Sony Pictures Releasing International’s executive vice-president of marketing, acquisitions and local productions, said. “Some of the happiest times of my career were working alongside him. He was a wonderful person and true mentor.”

A memorial service is being planned.