June 13, 2018—We are sad to share that Mike Sullivan, a true giant and pioneer in the industry, passed away on June 5. Sullivan orchestrated the opening of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater in San Diego, the first museum-operated Omnimax (IMAX Dome) theater; co-produced the earliest films; and was instrumental in bringing theaters to museums around the world. He was also one of the founding members of the Space Theater Consortium, the precursor to GSCA. In an article that appeared in the summer 1999 issue of The Big Frame, he reminisced about laying the groundwork for the association: “My joke is that I had the first meeting in my office. So many people came to the second meeting that we had to move it to the conference room.”
Mike truly made a difference, not just to those of us in the industry, but to the countless audiences, especially children, who have learned from and been inspired by these films. We are grateful for his vision and leadership. Our sincere condolences to his family and all of his many friends and colleagues.
Below is a tribute written by his wife, Eleanor, which we share with permission.
W. Michael Sullivan
Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center
W. Michael Sullivan
Mr. Mike, Mikie, William Michael Sullivan passed away with grace and at peace June 5 in Victoria, British Columbia 6 weeks before his 78th birthday and 7 days after his and Eleanor’s 25th wedding anniversary.
Born in Denver, he was always a Colorado boy at heart, happy in jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap. But he embraced change and pushed himself to break out of the mold, to make new things happen. He entered Adams State College as a theater and music major and switched just 6 weeks later to physics and geology. Quite the turnaround! He began his professional life as a Jeffco high school physics teacher but quickly started an astronomy club and created astronomy shows for the little planetarium on campus. From there he was recruited to run bigger, state-of-the-art planetariums in Miami and Nyack, New York, merging his theater and music interests with science to bring the heavens to his audiences.
It was seeing the new large format, big sound IMAX films at Expo 67 that pushed his imagination into overdrive. He passionately believed this new technology could be used in science museums and centers to bring alive, at first astronomy, but eventually science educational topics. He cajoled and eventually orchestrated the opening in 1971 of the first IMAX theater in a learning institution at San Diego’s Space Theater.
Eventually, as a full time consultant, he was instrumental in the funding, design, construction and operation of over 55 IMAX theaters in museums around the world. He coproduced the first five IMAX educational films.
Finally, in 1999 he moved back to managing the day-to-day operations of a science center and theater in Mobile, Alabama. He spent 10 years keeping the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center afloat, every year trying something new and more audacious to bring paying customers in through the doors. He oversaw the creation and funding of permanent exhibit galleries, school programs, teacher training and changing IMAX adventures. His “little museum that could” brought in two traveling exhibits annually, including massive undertakings with the China Museum of Science and Technology, Beijing, the Mummy exhibit with the British Museum, the Dead Sea Scrolls with the Israeli Antiquities Authority and A Day in Pompeii, which the Exploreum produced with the Italian Archeological Authority, Naples. The Pompeii exhibit subsequently toured to six other museums in the U.S.
Retirement to his Evergreen, Colorado, home at 8000 feet brought peace and tranquil days, watching the wildlife outside the door and listening to his favorite jazz and classical music with the lights of Evergreen twinkling in the distance. He took to driving his jeep over Rocky Mountain backroads, pursuing topics of the day with his men’s discussion groups, photography and cruising.
What a gentle sweet man. “Nice” seems inadequate, too plain a word but is a perfect description. I will miss him every hour of every day and thank him for the adventures of our life together.