DETROIT - Roger B. Smith, who led General Motors Corp. in the 1980s and was the subject of Michael Moore's searing documentary 'Roger and Me,' has died, the automaker said Friday. He was 82.
Smith died Thursday in the Detroit area after an unspecified brief illness, GM said.
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.
During Smith's tenure as GM's chief executive, the Detroit automaker introduced its first front-wheel-drive midsize cars, formed a joint venture with Toyota Motor Corp. to manufacture cars in California, created the Saturn brand and acquired Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Aircraft Corp.
'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,' Wagoner said.
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 became famous with 'Roger & Me,' which explored how GM's plant closings and layoffs affected his hometown of Flint.
The 1989 film featured Moore's efforts to interview Smith about the impact of the cuts.
Smith started his career with GM in 1949 as an accounting clerk, becoming treasurer in 1970 and vice president in 1971.
He led the company as import brands began to expand their market share and as GM grew its global business and dealt with tough U.S. environmental and safety standards.