DETROIT — Roger B. Smith, who led General Motors Corp. in the 1980s and was the subject of Michael Moore’s searing documentary “Roger &Me,” has died, the automaker said Friday. He was 82.
Smith died Thursday in the Detroit area after a brief illness that GM did not identify.
He was appointed chairman and chief executive on Jan. 1, 1981, and led the world’s largest automaker until his retirement on July 31, 1990.
With Japanese automakers gaining momentum in the U.S. as Smith’s tenure began, he responded with GM’s first front-wheel-drive midsize cars. He also formed a controversial joint venture with Toyota Motor Corp. to build cars in California and created the Saturn small-car brand to fight the imports.
“Roger Smith led GM during a period of tremendous innovation in the industry,” current GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said in a statement. “He was a leader who knew that we have to accept change, understand change and learn to make it work for us. Roger was truly a pioneer in the fast-moving global industry that we now take for granted.”
Smith also served GM as an executive vice president and a member of the board of directors beginning in 1974.
Moore has become an Oscar-winning documentary maker, but he first found fame with “Roger &Me,” which explored the effect of GM plant closings on his hometown of Flint.
The 1989 film chronicles Moore’s fruitless attempts to interview Smith about the devastation in Flint, although magazine articles and documentaries have alleged that Smith granted interviews to Moore prior to the film’s release.