Richard Donner Dies Superman39; Lethal Weapon39; And The
'Superman,' 'Lethal Weapon' director Richard Donner dies Mon, 05 Jul 2021 15:00:00 -0700-Richard Donner, the prolific Hollywood director and producer who helmed some of the most iconic movies of the 1970s and '80s, died at 91.
Richard Donner, the prolific Hollywood director and producer whose helming credits include some of the most iconic movies of the 1970s and ’80s including the Christopher Reeve-starring Superman, The Goonies and the Mel Gibson-Danny Glover buddy cop series Lethal Weapon, has died. He was 91.
Donner passed away Monday, according to his wife, the producer Lauren Schuler Donner, and his business manager. No cause of death has been revealed.
The Bronx-born Donner, a genial man with a booming voice, started his career directing for television. His TV credits include a laundry list of staple shows from the ’60s including Route 66, The Rifleman, The Twilight Zone, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Gilligan’s Island, Perry Mason and The Wild Wild West. His debut feature X-15 in 1961 with Charles Bronson (and a young Mary Tyler Moore) was followed by the 1968 crime comedy Salt & Pepper starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford, and 1969’s Lola with Charles Bronson and Susan George. He segued to films full time with 1976’s spooky The Omen.
That led to 1978’s Superman, the original superhero movie that starred Reeve as the Man of Steel along with Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty. The Warner Bros blockbuster with a budget of about $55 million grossed more than $300 million at the global box office. The first movie tentpole based on a superhero comic character, it scored three Oscar nominations and won a special Academy Award for its visual effects. It also cast the die for the superhero franchise space now dominated by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Universe of films.
A dispute with the producers famously resulted in Donner taking his name off directing Superman II when Richard Lester was brought in after Donner had shot the majority of the movie; a director’s cut of the film with many of the excised Donner-directed scenes was released in 2006.
By that time however Donner had moved on to other blockbuster successes in just about every genre, directing Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor in comedy The Toy (1982), and in 1985 helming both the medieval period adventure Ladyhawke and the seminal kids’ adventure pic The Goonies. That pic, about a group of friends hunt for treasure and come of age in in coastal Astoria, OR, had a script penned by Chris Columbus based on a story by Steven Spielberg.
“Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres,” Spielberg said in a statement today on hearing of Donner’s death. “Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favorite 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.”
Those mid-’80s movies were followed by another franchise-launching blockbuster at Warner Bros, 1987’s Lethal Weapon. The film included a role that turned Mad Max star Gibson into a global superstar. Donner directed all four of the Lethal Weapon movies in an 11-year span. They grossed more than $900 million globally.
Donner and Gibson would reteam as director and star in the movies Maverick (1994) and Conspiracy Theory (1997). His directing credits also include the 1988 Christmas staple Scrooged with Bill Murray; the 1980 drama Inside Moves with John Savage and David Morse co-written by Barry Levinson; and 1992’s coming-of-age drama Radio Flyer.
Donner’s final film as a director was 2006’s actioner 16 Blocks starring Bruce Willis (and a reunion with Morse), the latest in a line of action stars the director worked with that included Sylvester Stallone (Assassins), Gerard Butler and Paul Walker (Timeline) and of course Gibson.
Donner and his producer-wife Lauren Schuler Donner produced dozens of films under their The Donners’ Company production banner including the X-Men franchise (Lauren Schuler Donner produced; Richard Donner was an EP) that has spawned a remarkable 13 films over a two-decade span at 20th Century Fox/20th Century Studios, including introducing the world to Ryan Reynolds’ smart-aleck Deadpool. The latest pic in the X-Men series, The New Mutants, bowed in August 2020. In total, those films grossed nearly $2.5 billion globally. The duo also produced 1993’s Free Willy. That modestly-budgeted feel-good film went on to make $153 million globally.
Click on the photo to launch a photo gallery of Donner’s films.
Richard Donner Dies: 'Superman', 'Lethal Weapon' And 'The … Mon, 05 Jul 2021 15:00:00 -0700-Filmmaker Richard Donner, who helped create the modern superhero blockbuster with 1978's “Superman” and mastered the buddy comedy with the “Lethal …
Filmmaker Richard Donner, who helped create the modern superhero blockbuster with 1978’s “Superman” and mastered the buddy comedy with the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, has died. He was 91.
Donner died Monday in Los Angeles, his family said through a spokesperson.
Donner gained fame with his first feature, 1976’s “The Omen.” A then-unheard-of offer followed: $1 million to direct 1978’s “Superman.” Donner channeled his love of the character into making the film, repeatedly facing off with producers over the need for special effects that would convince the audience that a superhero could really fly. In the title role, Donner cast Christopher Reeve, who was associated with “Superman” for the rest of his life.
By the 21st century, the genre was dominating the box office in the U.S. and thriving overseas. The heads of Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment—producers of most of today’s superhero fare— both worked for Donner when they were starting out in Hollywood.
Steven Spielberg, who produced “The Goonies,” wrote in a statement that, “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 favorite 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.”
Tributes also poured in on Twitter Monday, including from “Goonies” star Sean Astin.
“Richard Donner had the biggest, boomiest voice you could imagine,” Astin wrote. “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.”
Director Kevin Smith tweeted that, “Richard Donner made the devil a child in The Omen, invented the modern day comic book movie with Superman, and reinvented the buddy cop movie with Lethal Weapon. I got to meet with him last year about a project. Guy was a natural born storyteller. Thanks for all the flicks, Dick!”
Filmmaker Edgar Wright added, “Richard Donner’s big heart & effervescent charm shone in his movies through the remarkable performances of his cast, which is no mean feat. You remember all the characters in Superman, Lethal Weapon, The Goonies & more, because Donner knew how to capture that magic onscreen.”
Wright said he, only met Donner once but said, “He was funny, charming and so full of stories (and happy to indulge my geeky questions).”
Donner followed “Superman” with an indie, “Inside Moves,” in 1980 and “The Toy” with Richard Pryor in 1982. In 1985, he made the kids’ adventure classic “The Goonies” and “Ladyhawke,” which would introduce him to his future wife, Lauren Shuler Donner.
The two married the following year. In 1993, they founded The Donners Company, which has produced such hits as “Deadpool,” “The Wolverine” and the “X-Men” franchise. Adjusted for inflation, his films have generated more than $1 billion in box office receipts.
“Let me tell you: Dick Donner directing is truly the sexiest man alive,” Shuler Donner said at a film academy tribute to the director in 2017.
She said a director’s personality often reveals itself onscreen.
“If you look at Dick’s movies, Dick is fun, larger than life, loud, strong, with a big mushy heart,” she said. “His confidence, his fearlessness, his humor are what make people adore him and has wrapped around me like a protective cloak.
“The combination of learning moviemaking from Richard Donner and falling in love with him has made me personally and professionally a better producer and a happier, loving person,” she continued, calling “Ladyhawke” their “personal love story.”
“I’m the hawk and he’s the wolf,” she said.
In 1987, Donner cast Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a mismatched police pair in the buddy-cop action film “Lethal Weapon.” The film was a smash, spawning several sequels and a TV show.
“He was a master storyteller,” Gibson said in 2017. “He was humble. He had this sign over this door that said ‘Leave your ego at the door,’ and there was no ego around him. It was hard for me to walk into the room, actually.”
Donner followed up with the Bill Murray hit “Scrooged” in 1988 and “Lethal Weapon 2” the next year.
His other credits include “Maverick,” “Conspiracy Theory” and “Radio Flyer.”
Born Richard Donald Schwartzberg on April 24, 1930, in New York City, Donner changed his name when he set out to become an actor.
“I would have been an out-of-work actor now if it wouldn’t have been for the great director Marty Ritt,” Donner said.
He recalled Ritt telling him, “Your problem is you can’t take direction,” and suggesting he pursue directing instead.
“And because I’d been hanging with him a little bit, he said, ‘You’re my assistant on the next show,’ and that turned my life around,” Donner said. “I never went back to acting.”
He started working in television, directing episodes of “Gilligan’s Island,” “Perry Mason” and “The Twilight Zone.”
Away from the camera, Donner was known for his extraordinary kindness and generosity, covering college tuition for one “Goonies” star (Jeff Cohen, now an entertainment attorney) and paying for life-saving rehab for another (actor Corey Feldman).
Donner told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview that the young cast helped him through the production.
“I never had kids of my own, and they became like my family,” he said.
Cohen, Feldman and “Lethal Weapon” star Rene Russo were among those lauding Donner for his kindness at the 2017 film academy tribute.
“You were charming and funny and witty and all these amazing (things), but the thing that killed me is you were kind,” Russo said. “You were so kind, and that’s what makes you the sexiest man in the world.”
Along with his wife, Donner was also a passionate animal advocate, rescuing dozens of dogs over the years and fighting against the captivity of killer whales.
Though a few of Donner’s films generated Oscar nominations, he was never nominated. But he got his chance to thank the academy — and his many friends and colleagues — at that tribute.
“This industry is my friend, and it’s been the greatest gift in the world to me,” Donner said. “You guys are all my Oscar.”
Former AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen compiled biographical material for this obituary.
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– July 6, 2021