Veteran filmmaker Richard Donner, known for directing blockbusters and classic films such as Superman, The Goonies and Lethal Weapon franchise, has died. He was 91. Donner passed away on Monday, his producer-wife Lauren Schuler Donner told Deadline.
However, she did not reveal the cause of his death. Donner, whose real name was Richard Donald Schwartzberg, was born in New York to Jewish parents in 1931. Early in his career, Donner had aspired to be an actor but found his calling in direction.
His early work included directing episodes of television shows such as The Rifleman, The Twilight Zone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Gilligan’s Island, and Perry Mason. Donner made his feature directorial debut with X-15 in 1961 but his big breakthrough came 15 years later when he directed horror movie The Omen in 1976. Starring Gregory Peck, David Warner and Lee Remick, the film was a major box office hit and got nominated for two Oscars, eventually taking home one.
He found further acclaim when he directed 1978's Superman, starring Chrisptoher Reeve as the Man of Steel along with Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty. The Warner Bros blockbuster was made on a whopping USD 55 million budget and ultimately grossed more than USD 300 million at the global box office.
The first movie tentpole based on a superhero comic character, Superman also got nominated for three Academy Awards. It won a special Academy Award for its visual effects. Despite the overwhelming success of Superman, Donner was fired from the film's sequel due to his disputes with producers. Richard Lester took over, though much of Donner’s work remains in the finished film. In 2006, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD the same day that Bryan Singer’s franchise reboot Superman Returns debuted on home video.
Donner was also known for directing 1985 adventure comedy The Goonies. Based on a story by filmmaker Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, The Goonies was a surprise hit and achieved cult status over the years. In the 1980s, Donner also started blockbuster action franchise Lethal Weapon, featuring rising Hollywood stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
Donner directed all four of the Lethal Weapon movies in an 11-year span. The movies grossed more than USD 900 million globally. Donner and Gibson also teamed up for Maverick (1994) and Conspiracy Theory in 1997.
His directing credits also include the 1988 Christmas movie Scrooged, drama Inside Moves and 1992’s coming-of-age drama Radio Flyer. In the wake of the news of Donner's death, prominent Hollywood personalities, including Spielberg, Gibson and The Goonies star Sean Astin paid their tributes.
In a statement, Spielberg said, "Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres. Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favourite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and — of course — the greatest Goonie of all."
"He was all kid. All heart. All the time. I can't believe he's gone, but his husky, hearty laugh will stay with me always," he wrote.
Gibson, in a statement to Deadline, remembered Donner as his "friend" and "mentor", who taught him many things in life. "He undercut his own talent and greatness with a huge chunk of humility referring to himself as 'merely a traffic cop'. He left his ego at the door and required that of others. He was magnanimous of heart and soul, which he liberally gave to all who knew him. "If we piled up all the good deeds he did, it would stretch to some uncharted place in the firmament. I will sorely miss him, with all his mischievous wit and wisdom," Gibson said.
Astin wrote on Twitter that Donner had the "biggest, boomiest voice" one could imagine. "He commanded attention and he laughed like no man has ever laughed before. Dick was so much fun. What I perceived in him, as a 12 year old kid, is that he cared. I love how much he cared," he added.
Actor-filmmaker Ben Stiller remembered Donner as someone who "made big time movies". "Movies that remain in our consciousness. That never has been and never is easy. Always admired his work," he added.
Filmmaker James Mangold tweeted, "James Mangold wrote, “To my mind this word captures the first priority and goal of a film director, regardless of genre or style. And Dick Donner achieved it time and time again, in all sorts of films. It’s not easy. It takes artistry. RIP Richard Donner."
Filmmaker Edgar Wright noted that the audiences remember their favourite characters from Superman, Lethal Weapon and The Goonies because Donner "knew how to capture that magic onscreen".
"I only met Richard once and he was funny, charming and so full of stories (and happy to indulge my geeky questions). I'm sad I'll never get to meet him again. RIP," he added. Donner was married to Lauren Shuler Donner. The couple's production company The Donners’ Company was known for backing hits like X-Men and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.