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Ex-film association chief Jack Valenti dead at 85

Story Highlights

• Jack Valenti died from complications from a stroke
• He led Motion Picture Association of America for 38 years
• MPAA is primary movie industry lobbying group
• Valenti was also assistant to President Lyndon Johnson
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Jack Valenti, the longtime head of the Motion Picture Association of America, died Thursday of complications from a stroke he suffered in March, his family announced. He was 85.

He died in Washington, less than a month after being hospitalized for a stroke, the MPAA announced Thursday evening.

Valenti spent 38 years as president of the U.S. movie industry's trade association, serving as its top lobbyist and spokesman until his retirement in 2004. (Watch a look back at the life of Hollywood's envoy to Washington Video)

"Jack was a showman, a gentleman, an orator and a passionate champion of this country, its movies and the enduring freedoms that made both so important to this world," his successor, Dan Glickman, said in a written statement announcing Valenti's death. (Gallery: Politics and film)

"He also embodied the theatricality of our industry with his conviction, quick wit and boundless energy. In a very real sense, he was the ultimate leading man."

Valenti joined the MPAA in 1966 after being a special assistant to then-President Lyndon Johnson. He was central to the 1968 creation of the modern MPAA move-ratings system -- now G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17.

The Houston native was a bomber pilot in the European theater during World War II, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross. He attended the University of Houston and Harvard Business School after the war and founded an advertising and political consulting agency, Weekley and Valenti, in 1952.

He met Johnson, then Senate majority leader, in 1955. On November 22, 1963, his agency was handling the media coverage of President John F. Kennedy's visit to Dallas when Kennedy fell to an assassin's bullet.

Johnson, who was Kennedy's vice president, took office and hired Valenti as a special assistant less than an hour later. Valenti appears in the famous photograph of Johnson being sworn in aboard Air Force One after Kennedy's assassination.

Valenti was a life member of the Directors Guild of America and a member of the board of trustees of the American Film Institute.

"Jack Valenti was a great American and a great Texan," President Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

"From protecting families by creating the movie rating system to advocating for intellectual property rights, Jack Valenti helped transform the motion picture industry," Bush said.

"He leaves a powerful legacy in Washington, in Hollywood and across our nation."

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Jack Valenti headed the Motion Picture Association of America from 1966 to 2004.

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