Don Simpson as head of production at Paramount/ Later with his makeover for his role in Days of Thunder

Don Simpson: The Broken King

The producer of the original Top Gun

David Paul Kirkpatrick
11 min readJun 6, 2022


Trigger Warning: abusive behavior, aggressive language

It was 1983. A blizzard had seized Anchorage, Alaska. Through the glass of the theater, I watched a limousine pull up into the night. In hurtling snow, the driver opened the door. Stepping out of the limo, in a knee-length camel hair coat, in mirrored shades, was the president of production of Paramount Pictures and, one day, the producer of Top Gun, the biggest movie of 1986.

This was Don Simpson. He looked like a Hollywood star arriving at the red carpet. But this was not a premier. This was a preview of a work in progress. Don looked to his right, then his left, searching for the fans. He was confused and high. Anchorage had closed down and there wasn’t a car in sight, let alone a human being.

This cold, god-forsaken city where the sun comes up only six months a year was Don’s hometown. Paramount has spent $137,000. to lug double system projectors so the unfinished film could be viewed for a recruited audience. The prodigal son returned in triumph as Paramount’s head of production. But there were only eight people in the audience to witness his triumph.

Fathers, be good to your sons. When they misbehave, don’t throw them against walls. Don’t beat them with your fists. You might think you are demonstrating discipline. Instead, you are showing your cards. When you use bare-knuckles, your sons can smell the viciousness and disappointment on your breath. When your sons are scared, take their hands, lead them towards an image of the shining hero, the aspiration that may have eluded you, but which is still possible for them.

Over the years as a studio man, Don was obsessed with the foul-mouthed disciplinarian. This was his father. In real or false memory, Don’s father was a tower of abuse. The movies Don made, The Lords of Discipline, An Officer and a Gentleman, and even, to a degree, Top Gun reflected that theme. Don Simpson’s assaults by his father carried a shadow over his life, whether real or imagined. The worst part of it was that Don’s Dad, according to Don, was a fundamentalist who beat him when he faltered on a Bible verse.

Don had an intelligent, mellifluous voice. He held the room when he spoke. What…



David Paul Kirkpatrick

Founder of Story Summit & MIT Center for Future Storytelling, Pres of Paramount Film Group, Production Chief of Disney Studios, optimist, author and teacher.