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Cates, the uncle of actress Phoebe Cates, loved the world of entertainment, even with its prima donna celebrities and penchant for excess. He brought a sense of fun to the Academy Awards, once sending an Oscar up in the Space Shuttle Columbia. When Steven Spielberg honored George Lucas during the show, a satellite camera showed the golden trophy floating in space’s zero gravity.

“That’s the excitement of doing the show,” Cates said. “It’s big enough that you can do those things.”

He was generous with his time and talent. He served as dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television from 1990 to 1998 and remained on the faculty as a professor.

Dean Teri Schwartz called Cates as a “beloved mentor, colleague and friend.”

“Today we mourn our great loss but also celebrate Gil’s extraordinary vision and countless contributions, not only to (the school) as founding dean and distinguished professor but to the entertainment and performing arts industries and the education of our students.” she said Tuesday.

When he was tested, he often voiced his thoughts in Yiddish, which removed any sting.

Once when prodded by a journalist for answers he was reluctant to provide, he playfully threw up his hands and pretended to end the interview, saying, “”Genuk! Enough already! It’s time for my nap”

When this reporter admitted she didn’t understand the Yiddish reference, he teased her for not being Jewish enough, then allowed the interview to continue for another 30 minutes.

Cates amassed dozens of credits in film, television and on and off Broadway. His film credits include 1970’s “I Never Sang for My Father,” which was nominated for three Academy Awards, and 1980’s “Oh God! Book II” with George Burns.

He belonged to the Directors Guild for more than 50 years, and president Taylor Hackford said Tuesday that Cates embodied the organization.

“Through his decades of service, he guided the Guild gently and charismatically and with great wisdom, and perhaps more importantly, he established what it meant to be a leader of this organization and the entertainment community,” Hackford said in a statement. “He was a fierce friend, an even fiercer negotiator and somebody you always hoped was on your side but respected even if he wasn’t.”

Ever the showman, Cates had a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, where flowers were placed Tuesday. Cates is survived by his wife, Dr. Judith Reichman, sister Florence Adler, four children, two stepchildren and six grandchildren.

At his office at the Geffen Playhouse, his computer monitor was framed by Post-It notes inscribed with inspirational quotes.

“My favorite,” Cates once said, “is from Pablo Picasso, who said, `I am just an entertainer who understood his time.’”