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Arnold Spielberg, Steven Spielberg’s Father, Dies at 103

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Arnold Spielberg, director Steven Spielberg’s father, died Tuesday, the family announced. He was 103.

Steven Spielberg and his family were at their father’s bedside when he passed on Tuesday evening of natural causes.

“You are our hearth. You are our home,” Steven Spielberg said to his father. “Thank you for my life. I love you, Dad, Daddy, Daddelah. And then so then, and then so then, what happens next…” his family whispered together at his bedside, and for the last time.

Photo of Arnold Spielberg seated on a chair outdoors, shot by Jon Freeman in 1993.

Arnold Meyer Spielberg was born on February 6, 1917 and was the first son of Samuel and Rebecca Spielberg. He would share stories throughout the years about his Jewish family’s modest means, including shoveling coal into wheelbarrows or carrying ice uphill and was eventually drawn to a love of science and academia and a lifelong passion for learning and innovative. His daughter Nancy referred to his passion for science as his ability to “stay rooted in reality while still being able to dream and invent.”

Spielberg followed his passion to become an electrical engineer and enlisted in the army in 1941 as a radio operator and chief communications man for the 490th Bomb Squadron, also known as the “Burma Bridge Busters” because of its designated mission of bombing Japanese bridges and railroad lines. Arnold volunteered for two combat tours in the China Burma India Theater of World War II.

Spielberg was stationed in India and would be in charge of communication between bombers in the air and those on the ground, working on the intercoms inside American planes. He was even responsible for repairing movie projectors that were used by the troops, something that would eventually inspire his son. And at the request of his fellow troops, he would wire the barracks for sound to play contemporary and classical music.

“He would put the headphones on me and tell me to listen for sounds of the universe,” his daughter Anne Spielberg said of her father. “He would say that if we just listened closely, there was more out there than we could ever imagine, and that there were people out there with stories, just like ours, ready to be shared.”

Spielberg married his wife Leah in 1945 after returning from the war and had their first child, Steven, the following year. He would later return to school on the G.I. Bill and obtained a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 1949, beginning his career at RCA in Camden, New Jersey. Nancy describes that Spielberg was instrumental in the “early, early” days of computing and worked on RCA’s first commercial business computer, the RCA BIZMAC.

Spielberg would then take a job at General Electric in 1956 and designed a series of GE-200 mainframe computers with Homer R. “Barney” Oldfield and a team of other collaborators. His work was revolutionary on the GE-225 for the early 1960s in how it allowed multiple users to interface with one computer to solve problems of simple varieties.

He would also work at Electronic Arrays, SDS, Burroughs and IBM throughout his career and was involved with the patent for the first electronic cash register. His work would take him across the country and to Southeast Asia. And Spielberg was awarded the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Pioneer Award for his imprint on the future of computers.

“When I see a PlayStation, when I look at a cell phone — from the smallest calculator to an iPad — I look at my dad and I say, ‘My dad and a team of geniuses started that,’” Steven Spielberg said about his father.

In 2012, Spielberg was recognized by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for his promotion of humanity through technology, for his years of mentorship, and for his support of the work cataloguing and organizing Holocaust testimonials.

When Spielberg was 95 and was in declining health, he went through a bilateral micro hemilaminectomy procedure, a risky procedure for his age, and went on to live for another eight years. In that time, he visited the sets of many of his sons films, visited Israel with his daughters, attended Burma Bridge Busters reunions with his children, studied pottery and visited the WWII Museum in New Orleans. He even took online courses in thermodynamics, history and astronomy as a “lifelong learner,” according to his family.

During his final days, Spielberg was surrounded by his four children, screening movies, listening to classical music and Russian and Yiddish folk melodies, reading the “funnies,” and sharing time with them on his patio overlooking the hills of the Pacific Palisades.

He is preceded in death by his brother, Irvin “Buddy” Spielberg, his wife, Bernice Colner Spielberg, and his first wife, Leah Spielberg Adler. Arnold is survived by his children, film director Steven Spielberg (wife, Kate Capshaw); screenwriter Anne Spielberg (husband, Danny Opatoshu); marketing executive Sue Spielberg (husband Jerry Pasternak); and producer Nancy Spielberg (husband Shimon Katz). He is also survived by 4 stepchildren, 11 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren, and countless adoring cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Due to circumstances and safety precautions around the ongoing pandemic, a celebration of life will be held at a later date, tentatively set for Fall of 2021 and aligned with the Jewish tradition of unveiling the headstone.

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