(Los Angeles, March 8, 2019) – Human Rights Watch mourns the death of our friend, supporter, and board member Sid Sheinberg, a legendary Hollywood executive who died at home on March 7 aged 84. Sheinberg and his wife Lorraine worked tirelessly for decades to support human rights and were instrumental in helping Human Rights Watch to establish work on the rights of women and LGBT people.
Sheinberg, who joined the international board of Human Rights Watch in 1995 and acted as vice-chair for 13 years, was best known professionally for launching Stephen Spielberg’s career – together they gave us Jaws, ET and Schindler’s List.
“Behind his sometimes gruff demeanor, Sid was an incredibly warm, empathetic and perceptive man,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “He used his intelligence, his compassion, and his extraordinary network of contacts to help build Human Rights Watch into an international organization.”
With his wife Lorraine, a noted women’s rights activist who starred in Jaws, Sheinberg helped to build up Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, now a thriving team working on women’s rights issues around the world. Sheinberg also helped to establish the Los Angeles committee, which builds support in Southern California for the organization and for human rights. His strong and consistent leadership helped to create a global network, with committees supporting Human Rights Watch in 22 cities worldwide today.
“When Sid Sheinberg accepted our invitation to join the board of Human Rights Watch, he committed completely and forever – Sid had human rights in his DNA,” said Jane Olson, former chair of the Human Rights Watch board. “Trained as a lawyer, Sid sought justice in all matters, but he insisted on due process and fairness for everyone. His integrity and generosity became legend in the entertainment industry. Through his outreach and advocacy, Human Rights Watch was the beneficiary of that reputation.”
In “City of Dreams,” his book on Universal, Bernard F Dick wrote that: “Sheinberg saw in Spielberg what he himself could never reveal publicly (and certainly not on the fifteenth floor of the Black Tower): a compassion for the stigmatized and misunderstood.” At Human Rights Watch, we saw Sheinberg’s compassion for the stigmatized in action – for example, in fundraising fiercely for the creation of an LGBT program.
Sheinberg was widely recognized as an outspoken LGBT ally – in 1992, for example, as President and COO of MCA Inc, which included Universal, he made it the first company in Hollywood to recognize same-sex partners for benefits, and supported HIV-awareness campaigns in the early days of the AIDS crisis. The program he helped establish at Human Rights Watch now covers LGBT rights issues around the world.
As well as being extraordinarily generous donors, the Sheinbergs were deeply committed in word and in action to the work of Human Rights Watch, participating in advocacy activities and missions around the world. Sheinberg’s presence on the board, as our longest-standing member, showed us how a clear voice from an influential perch can greatly advance social justice.
He also believed strongly in investing in the next generation and pushed Human Rights Watch to think about educating students on human rights and recruiting young people to the cause. In Los Angeles he supported the Student Task Force, which empowers high-school students to become human rights activists by building campaigns and advocating around key issues.
We will miss Sheinberg’s deep commitment to human rights, his sharp mind and his friendship – and his deep legacy propels us forward. We extend our gratitude to Sid and Lorraine Sheinberg for their lifelong support of human rights and we send our condolences to Lorraine, their sons Jon and Bill, and the entire Sheinberg family on the loss of a great man.