Kevin Burns, a Niskayuna native and television producer of the “Lost in Space” Netflix reboot, among other shows, died of cardiac arrest at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Sunday. He was 65.
Burns graduated from Niskayuna High School in 1973 and went on to create Prometheus Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in documentary, reality and non-fiction programming, in 1999. He worked at 20th Century Fox Television for over a decade before that.
Throughout his career, he produced many television shows, including “Ancient Aliens,” which aired on the History channel, and “Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed.” He received two Emmy Awards, including one for his work as executive producer on A&E’s “Biography,” which traced the lives of historical figures and celebrities.
“He had an old-fashioned sense of showmanship and [was] a tremendous executive and producer,” said Dan Harrison, a longtime friend of Burns and a fellow Niskayuna graduate. Harrison is the executive vice president of programming and planning for Fox Entertainment and said he owes the start of his career partly to Burns, who gave him a job at Fox after learning they shared the same hometown.
“He grew up right across the street from St. Helen’s on the corner of the property of the synagogue that my family has attended forever,” Harrison said. He worked for Burns for four years, mainly during the summers in between semesters at Cornell University.
“That was my foot in the door at Fox and really got my career going so I owe a lot to Kevin,” Harrison said.
Later on, Burns hired him to write for two episodes of A&E’s “Biography,” one on Alan Alda and the other on “MASH.”
“He produced hundreds of hours of cable television and probably dozens to a hundred hours of A&E ‘Biography’ alone,” Harrison said.
Burns had a passion for old Hollywood films, according to Harrison, and for a time he taught film production at Boston University, where he received his master’s degree in 1981. He also worked on “The Curse of Oak Island,” a History channel reality show about treasure hunting on Nova Scotia and “The Girls Next Door,” a reality series on E! centered around the Playboy Mansion. He also created “Ancient Aliens,” which was based on the theory that extraterrestrials have visited Earth for millions of years.
Amid a busy career, however, he made time to help others in the business.
“Kevin was at heart a teacher, throughout his whole career. There are lots of people in Hollywood who learned from Kevin, as I did. I think that was something special,” Harrison said.
“It was a wonderful, inspiring and just amazing experience to have the privilege to work with Kevin for the past eight years,” said Derek Thielges, the vice president of marketing and development at Prometheus, who started at the company as Burns’ assistant.
“There was nobody like him that I’ve ever met and I don’t think will ever meet in the future. The man was beloved by so many people, changed countless lives, both personally and professionally.”
Many have taken to social media in the last few days to thank the producer for keeping the flame going for the “Lost in Space” reboot, and for his mentorship.
“Kevin Burns was generous & kind as he welcomed me into the Lost in Space family,” Maxwell Jenkins, who plays Will Robinson in “Lost in Space” on Netflix, tweeted. “He brought us together around stories & food & laughter. He shared history and grounded me in this journey. I will miss him and I am so grateful to have known him and to call him a friend and mentor.”
Robert Clotworthy, a narrator on “Ancient Aliens” tweeted: “I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of Mr. Kevin Burns yesterday. Not only was he my boss, he was my friend. He was creative, funny, generous, brilliant, tough, wise, curious, opinionated, loyal and loved life. Thank you, Kevin. You live eternally in my heart.”
Throughout his time in Hollywood, Burns never forgot where he came from, Harrison said. While Burns no longer has immediate family in the area, he was proud of his Capital Region roots.
“He loved Schenectady. He loved Niskayuna High School,” Harrison said. Burns was inducted into the high school’s Hall of Fame in 1985, just a dozen years after graduating.
“[Kevin was] this guy from Schenectady who never lost his sense of wonder and love of old Hollywood,” Harrison said.
Burns is survived by his niece Jill Anderson McIntosh.