Industry Icon Salah M. Hassanein Passes Away

Salah M. Hassanein, age 98, passed away peacefully on June 7, 2019 at his home in Del Mar, California. 

Hassanein was born in Egypt in 1921 and came to the United States in 1945.  He served in the U.S. Armed forces from 1945 to 1947. Hassanein was the embodiment of the American dream–an immigrant who achieved great success in business and, through his tireless charitable work, continuously gave back to the communities he lived in and the adopted country that he valued so deeply.  

He began his long career in the film industry as an usher at a movie theater in New York City and rose through the corporate ranks to become president of United Artists Eastern Theaters and subsequently president of Warner Brothers International Theaters. Fluent in several languages, Hassanein was responsible for creating a network of movie theaters in Europe, Japan, and Australia for Warner Brothers. From 1994 to 2000, he was president of The Todd-AO Corporation, a sound-mixing studio in Los Angeles. Along the way, Hassanein became involved in several movie productions, including Kentucky Fried Movie, Day of the Dead, Creepshow, Knightriders, and Compromising Positions. In 2011, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in recognition of U.S. citizens who have distinguished themselves by exemplifying the values of the American way of life.

Hassanein’s relentless passion for his work, his keen intellect, and quick wit were well known by many he encountered during his professional career, but those were only some of his attributes. Salah was a philanthropist at heart who spent countless hours supporting numerous charitable organizations. He is the namesake of the film industry’s ShowEast Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award, presented annually to a leader in the industry who has distinguished him or herself in the philanthropic community. Hassanein served as a member of the Board of the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens (later renamed the Salah M. Hassanein Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens in his honor) for many years and was Chairman of the Board and President of Variety International, among many other board positions he held in various charities. He served as President and Honorary Chairman of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation and was instrumental in creating the Will Rogers Institute on the grounds of Burke Rehabilitation Hospital after the closure of the Will Rogers Hospital in 1975. His name lives on with the Pioneers Assistance Fund’s “Salah Hassanein Medical Grant”, which provides temporary financial aid for film industry members in need.   

In San Diego, he and his partner, Zandra Rhodes, chaired many gala events to raise funds to construct the Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center at UCSD in La Jolla, CA, which opened in 2011.  Hassanein also proudly served as a Board member of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla, CA and worked extensively with the Salvation Army in San Diego for many years. 

However, the organization that was most dear to him was Children’s Lifeline International.  In 1983, when Nancy Reagan brought two children from South Korea to the United States for open-heart surgery, she turned to the motion picture industry for assistance. Hassanein, along with an industry colleague, immediately responded. Under Hassanein’s leadership, Children’s Lifeline became the sponsor of medical missions to developing countries where doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners from U.S. hospitals perform lifesaving pediatric cardiac surgery, among other treatments. Over the years, medical personnel from more than 25 U.S. hospitals have treated children on Children’s Lifeline missions to 50 different countries. Salah once said that Children’s Lifeline was his life’s greatest achievement.  

When he wasn’t working or traveling the world, Hassanein could be found enjoying the sunset at the beach in Del Mar, having lunch at the racetrack Turf Club, planning the next family adventure, or attending the San Diego Opera.

Salah is survived by four children: Richard Hassanein and his wife, Adrienne King Hassanein; Nesa Hassanein; Salah Hassanein; and Neva Hassanein; four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and his long-time partner, Zandra Rhodes. His son, Roland, predeceased him in 2015.  He is also survived by his half-brother, Esmat, and many nieces and nephews.

Obituary republished with permission of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation.

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