Don Simpson

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Don Simpson
Donald Clarence Simpson

(1943-10-29)October 29, 1943
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
DiedJanuary 19, 1996(1996-01-19) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of deathDrug-related heart failure
EducationWest Anchorage High School
Alma materUniversity of Oregon, B.S. 1967
  • Film producer
  • screenwriter
  • actor
Years active1975–1996
Notable workFlashdance
Beverly Hills Cop
Top Gun
The Rock

Donald Clarence Simpson (October 29, 1943 – January 19, 1996) was an American film producer, screenwriter, and actor. Simpson and his producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer produced hit films such as Flashdance (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Top Gun (1986), and The Rock (1996). At the time of his death in 1996, Simpson's films' total gross was $3 billion worldwide.[1]

Early life[edit]

Simpson was born in Seattle, Washington, to June Hazel (née Clark), a housewife, and Russell J. Simpson, a mechanic at Boeing at the time of his son's birth.[2] He grew up in Juneau, Alaska. His parents were strict Baptists and Simpson would go to church four to five times a week.[3] He would call himself a "straight-A Bible student".[4] He attended West Anchorage High School and later majored in English at the University of Oregon. Upon graduation, Simpson worked as a ski instructor in Utah. He later moved to San Francisco where he worked for a theatrical advertising agency and did public relations for the First International Erotic Film Festival.[5]


1970s & 1980s: Paramount Studios[edit]

In the early 1970s, Simpson started working for Jack Wodell & Associates in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles.[6] Where he got a job marketing exploitation films for Warner Bros in 1972, handling distribution marketing for the movies Woodstock and A Clockwork Orange.

In 1975 Simpson went into an interview with Paramount Pictures. He was referred by his friend Steve Tisch, nephew of Larry Tisch (who later owned CBS and Westinghouse), for the job Steve Tisch turned down. Steve Tisch would later go on to produce Risky Business, Forrest Gump and more. Jerry Bruckheimer, who was already friends with Simpson, loaned his personal car to Simpson to drive to the interview.[7]

While there, he co-wrote the 1976 film Cannonball, in which he also had a small role. By 1977, he was named vice-president of production at Paramount, and president in 1981.[8][5] He was fired at Paramount in 1982 after passing out during a studio meeting due to drug use.[9] He was working on eight productions at once, and would regularly throw a tantrum while in production.[8]

Soon after, he forged a partnership with fellow producer Jerry Bruckheimer.[10][11] The two would go on to produce some of the most financially successful films of the 1980s: Flashdance (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Top Gun (1986) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). In 1985 and again in 1988, he and Bruckheimer were named Producers of the Year by the National Association of Theatre Owners.[12] The success of Flashdance prompted Simpson and Bruckheimer to launch their own production company, that was affiliated with Paramount Pictures.[13]


In 1990, Simpson and Bruckheimer signed a five-year deal with Paramount worth a reported $300 million. The deal would prove to be short lived. Later that year, the Simpson/Bruckheimer-produced Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise was released. The auto racing film received mixed reviews and grossed $158 million (on a $60 million budget). While a financial success, it did not match the success of Simpson and Bruckheimer's previous films. Simpson and Bruckheimer blamed Paramount for the film's lackluster box-office returns, saying the studio rushed its planning and release. Paramount blamed the film's performance on Simpson and Bruckheimer's overspending. The duo parted with Paramount shortly thereafter.[14][15]

In 1991, the two signed with Disney. Their first film for Disney, The Ref (1994), was a financial flop. Their next films, Dangerous Minds, Crimson Tide, and Bad Boys (distributed by Columbia Pictures rather than Disney), all released in 1995, brought them back to success.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Simpson never married and lived alone in a mansion in Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills.[8]

In the 1970s, Simpson took classes to join the Church of Scientology but quit after spending $25,000 and not seeing any significant personal improvements.[16][17] During the shooting of Days of Thunder, Simpson threw David Miscavige off the production because he refused to pay for a more expensive Scientology-patented sound recording device.[18]


Simpson was known for his brash personality, provocative comments and questionable claims. Of director Steven Spielberg, Simpson said, "I'm surprised for a smart Jew he's as white-bread as he is."[19] He later said, "Any person who suggested David Lynch for Dune should have every part of their anatomy examined."[8] He said several times that, as a producer, "our obligation is to make money".[20] Simpson worked out every day with special equipment provided by Arnold Schwarzenegger.[21]

Simpson claimed he discovered Michael Mann, launched Debra Winger's career and cast Richard Gere for American Gigolo. He also claimed he created the concept for Beverly Hills Cop, which Michael Eisner denied.[8] In the movie industry, professionals working with Simpson would refer to the "Don Simpson Discount Factor" (DSDF, coined by Jeff Katzenberg), a way to tone down his exaggerations.[8]

Due to their films' success, Simpson and Bruckheimer became very rich. They often dressed in similar clothing, choosing black as their signature color. Simpson would wear black Levi 501 jeans only before their first wash and then throw them away. He frequented the Canyon Ranch in Arizona for occasional workouts and tanning. Though Simpson claimed he never underwent any plastic surgery procedures,[3] there are reports that he underwent ten different plastic surgeries between 1988 and 1994, including a penis-enlargement procedure. Those surgeries eventually led to infection and many reversal procedures.[22]

As Simpson and Bruckheimer's success grew, so did Simpson's reputation as a "party animal". He said that "next to eating and having sex, making movies is the best thing in the world".[8] Simpson's debauched lifestyle was well known in Hollywood and has been documented in a number of sources. He was a fixture on the "Hollywood cocaine-party" circuit throughout the 1970s and '80s, and in his later years became known for throwing lavish all-night parties at his mansion.[23] An entire chapter of the book You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again (which describes four prostitutes' stories about their sexual encounters with Hollywood celebrities) discusses his frequent sex parties and preference for S & M.[24] He also gave himself testosterone shots to boost his sex drive. According to the call girl Alexandra Datig, Simpson auditioned struggling actresses for his movies, convinced them to have sex with him, and secretly filmed their sex acts.[22]

Drug addiction[edit]

Simpson had been using cocaine since the 1980s, but increased his usage over the years.[25] The excessive spending (in both films and his personal life) and erratic mood swings caused by his drug use were well known in Hollywood by the 1990s.[14] In a 1994 interview with The New York Times, Simpson tried to downplay his reputation and claimed that while he had done drugs in the past, he had stopped. He claimed that his only addiction at the time was food.[4] According to screenwriter James Toback, Simpson's drug use never stopped, and prompted David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg to stage an intervention to get Simpson to go to rehab.[14]

Simpson refused to admit himself into a traditional rehab facility. In 1995, he employed Dr. Stephen Ammerman to help him with his addiction. Ammerman, who had a history of drug abuse himself, believed that in order for Simpson to quit drugs, he had to use other drugs to combat the painful withdrawal symptoms. Ammerman designed what has been called a "dangerously unorthodox" detox program, which included several medications (including morphine) for Simpson to take at home.[25][26] In August 1995 Ammerman died of what was later determined to be an accidental overdose of cocaine, Valium, venlafaxine, and morphine.[27]

Frustrated with Simpson's escalating drug use and declining work, Bruckheimer terminated their partnership in December 1995. The two agreed to finish work on The Rock, which was already in production.[28] Simpson died before production was completed, and the film is dedicated to his memory.[29]


On January 19, 1996, Simpson was found dead in the bathroom of his Bel Air, Los Angeles, home.[30] His death was initially attributed to "natural causes". An autopsy and toxicology report later determined that Simpson had died of heart failure caused by combined drug intoxication (cocaine and prescription medications).[31] At the time of his death, there were 21 different drugs in his system, including antidepressants, stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers.[22] In August 1996, investigative reporter Chuck Philips of the Los Angeles Times revealed that Simpson had been obtaining large quantities of prescription drugs from 15 different doctors, and that police found 2,200 prescription pills lined up in alphabetical order in his bedroom closet.[25][32][33]

A 1998 book by journalist Charles Fleming reported that Simpson's prescription drug expenses totaled more than $60,000 a month at the time of his death. He called Simpson "a supercharged simple-minded creature, an Aesop's fable on crystal meth".[34][20]

Following his death, his brother Lary Simpson had his own production banner, in order to develop products originated by Don Simpson himself in 1997.[35]


He was a producer in all films unless otherwise noted.


Year Film Credit Notes
1983 Flashdance
1984 Beverly Hills Cop
Thief of Hearts
1986 Top Gun
1987 Beverly Hills Cop II
1990 Days of Thunder
1994 The Ref Executive producer
1995 Bad Boys
Crimson Tide
Dangerous Minds Final film as a producer
1996 The Rock Posthumous release
As an actor
Year Film Role
1976 Cannonball Assistant District Attorney
1990 Days of Thunder Aldo Bennedetti
As writer
Year Film Notes
1975 Aloha, Bobby and Rose Uncredited
1976 Cannonball


Year Title Credit
1996 Dangerous Minds Executive producer

Posthumous credits[edit]

Year Title Credit
2020 Bad Boys For Life As Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films
2022 Top Gun: Maverick As Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films


  1. ^ "Disney Extends Bruckheimer Deal". Los Angeles Times. May 2, 1997. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  2. ^ "Don Simpson".
  3. ^ a b Richard Natale (June 6, 1993). "Don and Jerry's Blue Period : They Were the Ultimate Hollywood Success Story. But in Tinseltown, Their Failure Was an Even Better Yarn". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ a b Bernard Weinraub (March 14, 1994). "Simpson and Bruckheimer, Part 2". The New York Times.
  5. ^ a b Thomson, David (April 7, 1996). "I'm Don Simpson; And You're Not". The Independent. Retrieved October 27, 2009.
  6. ^ "The Demons that Drove Don Simpson - Playboy". Playboy | The Complete Archive. Retrieved July 22, 2022.
  7. ^ Fleming, Charles (1999). High concept : Don Simpson and the Hollywood culture of excess. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-4262-7. OCLC 56922908.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Lynn Hirschberg (September 1, 1985). "Gone Hollywood". Esquire.
  9. ^ Thomas King and John Lippman (January 26, 1996). "Fatal Attraction How Sex and Drugs Brutally Ripped Apart Hot Hollywood Team". The Wall Street Journal.
  10. ^ "Don Simpson Bio". FilmStar.
  11. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (February 22, 1996). "Don Simpson passes away". Entertainment Weekly. p. 1. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  12. ^ "The Roy Faires Collection - Interview with Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson (1987)". October 2016.
  13. ^ "Par Signs Simpson, Bruckheimer To A 3-Year Exclusivity". Variety. August 10, 1983. p. 3.
  14. ^ a b c d Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (February 22, 1996). "Don Simpson passes away". Entertainment Weekly. p. 2. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  15. ^ Citron, Alan (January 18, 1991). "'Top Gun' Producers, Disney Sign Deal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  16. ^ "MEDIA WATCH : The Church and The Magazines". Los Angeles Times. October 17, 1993. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  17. ^ Kirsten Acuna (July 16, 2012). "13 Former Celebrity Scientologists". Business Insider.
  18. ^ Jane Galbraith (October 17, 1993). "MEDIA WATCH : The Church and The Magazines". Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ "FASTEST GUMS IN THE WEST : Nothing Succeeds Here Like a Bulletproof Batting Average". Los Angeles Times. September 1, 1985.
  20. ^ a b "Son of a pitch". The Guardian. March 12, 1999.
  21. ^ Charles Fleming (April 22, 1998). "Days of plunder". LA Weekly.
  22. ^ a b c "Don Simpson (Producer) – bizarre sex life?". Film Star Facts. March 4, 2015.
  23. ^ "Fatal Attraction: How Sex and Drugs Brutally Ripped Apart Hot Hollywood Team". The Wall Street Journal.
  24. ^ "Don Simpson: Hollywood Death". Los Angeles Times. April 2, 1998. Archived from the original on December 31, 2014. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  25. ^ a b c Philips, Chuck (August 18, 1996). "Don Simpson's Death Showed Depth of Abuse". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 4, 2022.
  26. ^ Hall, Carla; Philips, Chuck (August 17, 1995). "Doctor, 44, Found Dead at Home of Producer: Probe: Body discovered in pool house of Don Simpson. There are no signs of trauma, officials say". Los Angeles Times.
  27. ^ Philips, Chuck; Hall, Carla (February 6, 1996). "Narcotics Unit Probes Don Simpson's Death". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  28. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (February 22, 1996). "Don Simpson passes away". Entertainment Tonight. p. 3. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  29. ^ Turan, Kenneth (August 7, 1996). "Between a 'Rock' and Loud Place". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  30. ^ Pace, Eric (January 21, 1996). "Don Simpson Is Dead at 52; Produced Blockbuster Films". The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2009.
  31. ^ Fleming, Charles (April 22, 1998). "Days of Plunder". LA Weekly. Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  32. ^ Shipman, David (January 23, 1996). "Obituary: Don Simpson". The Independent. UK. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  33. ^ Philips, Chuck; Malnic, Eric (March 17, 1996). "Autopsy Finds Don Simpson Died of Overdose". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  34. ^ Fleming, Charles (1998). High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess. Doubleday. p. 9. ISBN 0-385-48694-4.
  35. ^ Petrikin, Chris (March 27, 1997). "Lary Simpson hangs out prod'n shingle". Variety. Retrieved January 20, 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Charles Fleming (April 20, 1999). High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Cultures of Excess. Main Street Books. ISBN 978-0385486958.

External links[edit]