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Willis Johnson, Classic Cinemas founder, dies at 86

Classic Cinemas founder Willis Johnson dies
Classic Cinemas founder Willis Johnson dies 00:38

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (CBS) -- Willis Johnson wasn't famous, and he never appeared on the big screen.

Yet movie lovers in the Downers Grove are remembering him as the who brought the big screen to life.

Johnson, founder of Classic Cinemas, was just a young man when he took over the Tivoli Theatre, at 5021 Highland Ave. in Downers Grove, in 1977.

"Star Wars" was king at the box office at the time.

Classic Cinemas

On Friday evening, the marquee on the Tivoli read, "In loving memory of Willis Johnson. Thank you for the magic of movies."

Johnson's Classic Cinemas empire grew to 16 theaters across the suburbs. His business even survived the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson died on Wednesday at the age of 86.

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