Zaentz began as a music producer with his Fantasy Records label, which represented acts including Creedence Clearwater Revival. He then moved into the film industry, helping produce three Oscar-winning best pictures — One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient. In 1997, he received the Irving G. Thalberg Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his "consistently high quality of motion picture production."
"He was an extraordinary man," his nephew Paul said. "He had a lot of guts, a lot of integrity."