Hollywood producing legend Robert Evans: At 83, still front row center


(CBS News) As a businessman and a movie producer, Robert Evans rarely took "no" for an answer -- and Paramount Pictures wouldn't have survived without him.

As head of Paramount in the late 1960s and '70s, he took a failing studio and made it number one, with some of the most acclaimed films ever made.

There was "Love Story," "True Grit," "Chinatown," and "The Godfather."

At 83, Evans still has the swagger that got him noticed as a young actor. His first leading role came in the film version of Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," but early on, Evans knew he needed more.

He told CBS News' Lee Cowan, he was a "half-assed actor," and knew that he wasn't going to be "the next Paul Newman."

What he lacked in performance skills, he made up for in personality. He was known for his playboy lifestyle, seven marriages, and wild parties with some of the biggest stars of the day, including Jack Nicholson.

But, one night in 1998, it all caught up to him.

"I'm one of the very few who came back from the dead," he said.

Evans couldn't have produced an event more dire -- he had not one, but three massive strokes.

Cowan asked him if he saw it as "payback for hard living." Evans replied, "There's a law of retribution, and I got it."

Evans also said that he didn't want anyone to come visit him while he was sick. "I was terribly distorted," he said. "It's no fun to look at yourself and you look like Quasimodo."

However, just as he had in Hollywood, Evans set out to beat the odds. He endured months of painful rehabilitation, eventually becoming healthy enough to even get married (and divorced) again.

He writes about all of it in a new book, "The Fat Lady Sang" (HarperCollins), which he hopes will serve as an inspiration to others.

"If I can make it through what I did, I'm no better than they are, they should work it, too," he said. "Let 'em look at me and say, 'Yeah, if he can do it, they can do it, too. I just wake up and can't believe I'm sitting with you, I mean that. I'm sitting with you, I should've been dead 20 years ago!"

Yet, having outlived most of his friends -- and most of his critics -- leaves him a lot of time to reflect.

He told Cowan what he's never had was "peace of mind," and he doesn't even have it now. He said what he believes will bring him peace of mind is "most probably, death."

Being told "no," whether by a studio executive or by his own body, doesn't sit well with Evans. He remains an institution on the Paramount lot, where he has an office to this day. He knows being a living legend is better than the alternative.

"I'm so grateful, because the greatest show on Earth is life, and I'm still in the front row center," he said.

For Lee Cowan's full report, watch the video in the player above.