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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The man who guided General Motors through some of the auto industry's most difficult years had died. Roger Smith was chairman and CEO from 1981 to 1990. Among his accomplishments was the creation of the Saturn brand. But many will remember Smith, not so much for a car, as for a movie - Michael Moore's 1989 documentary, "Roger & Me."

Dustin Dwyer of Michigan Radio reports on Smith's legacy.

DUSTIN DWYER: Without Roger Smith, it's quite possible you would have never heard of Michael Moore. "Roger & Me" is the film that made Moore famous. In it, Moore describes the devastation in his hometown of Flint, Michigan after G.M. cut 30,000 jobs. And Moore chases Roger Smith throughout the movie.

(Soundbite of film "Roger & Me")

Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Director, "Roger & Me"): My mission was a simple one - to convince Roger Smith to spend a day with me in Flint and meet some of the people who are losing their jobs.

DWYER: But Smith's career cannot be defined by just one movie. Smith spent nine years at the top of G.M. He made countless decisions that affected the future of the company.

And David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research says that's how he will remember Smith - as a guy who made difficult choices.

Mr. DAVID COLE (Chairman, Center for Automotive Research): He was not a timid guy. He made tough decisions. He tackled big issues. He didn't look at himself as just sort of a - I'm going to sort of watch over the flock here. He jumped in and did some very, very bold things.

DWYER: One of Smith's risky moves that paid off was a partnership to build cars in California with GM's rival, Toyota. That partnership continues today. Roger Smith was 82 years old.

For NPR News, I'm Dustin Dwyer in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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