The legendary producer collapsed at a parking lot at UCLA. Authorities responded at about 5:50 p.m. Monday, but were unable to revive him. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
Cates enjoyed a long career in the film and the television world, but he will also be remembered as a man who produced the Academy Awards telecast a record 14 times, between 1990 and 2008.
He was responsible for hiring hosts as diverse as Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart.
"He was a consummate professional who gave the Academy and the world some of the most memorable moments in Oscar history. His passing is a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry, and our thoughts go out to his family," the Academy said in a statement.
Cates also served as the dean of the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA.
"We mourn our great loss but also celebrate Gil's extraordinary vision and countless contributions," the school said in a statement. "Our students ... benefited from his remarkable talent, insights, generosity, experience and wisdom."
Cates twice served as president of the Directors Guild of America and was on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
He produced and directed films, television shows and plays on and off Broadway. His film credits include 1970's "I Never Sang for My Father" with Gene Hackman, and 1980's "Oh God! Book II" with George Burns.
He produced and directed plays at the Geffen Playhouse, where he was regarded as "our founder, our leader and our heart," according to a statement Tuesday.
Cates is survived by his wife, Dr. Judith Reichman, four children, two stepchildren and six grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.