‘Superman’ director Richard Donner dies aged 91

Filmmaker Richard Donner, who helped create the modern day superhero blockbuster with 1978’s “Superman” and mastered the buddy comedy with the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, died Monday at age 91.

Donner rose to fame with his first feature film, ‘The Omen’. An then unheard of offer followed: $1 million to direct 1978’s Superman. Donner used his love for the character to create the film, repeatedly confronting the producers about the need for special effects that would convince audiences that a superhero can 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 dominated the box office in the US and thrived abroad. The heads of Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment — producers of most of today’s superhero art — both worked for Donner when they started out in Hollywood.

Steven Spielberg, who produced “The Goonies,” wrote in a statement that “Dick had such a powerful mastery of his movies and was so gifted in so many genres. Being in his circle was like going out with your favorite coach, brightest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, most loyal ally, and – of course – the greatest Goonie of them all. He was all kid. All at heart. All the time. I can’t believe he’s gone, but his hoarse, hearty laugh will always stay with me.”

Tribute on Twitter

Tributes also poured in on Twitter Monday, including from “Goonies” star Sean Astin.

“Richard Donner had the biggest, most booming voice imaginable,” Astin wrote. “He commanded attention and he laughed like no one has ever laughed before. Thick was so much fun. What I saw in him as a 12-year-old boy is that he cared about him. I love how much he cared about him.”

Richard Donner had the biggest, most booming voice imaginable. He caught the eye and laughed like no one has ever laughed before. Thick was so much fun. What I saw in him as a 12-year-old boy is that he cared about him. I love how much he cared about him.

– Goonies never say dead

— Sean Astin (@SeanAstin) July 5, 2021

Director Kevin Smith tweeted: “Richard Donner turned the devil into a kid in The Omen, invented the modern comic book movie with Superman and reinvented the buddy cop movie with Lethal Weapon. I met him last year about a project. Guy was a born storyteller. Thanks for all the movies, Dick!’

Filmmaker Edgar Wright added: “Richard Donner’s big heart and bubbly charm sparkled in his films through the remarkable performances of his cast, which is no small feat. You remember all the characters in Superman, Lethal Weapon, The Goonies and more because Donner captured that magic on screen.”

‘Fun, bigger than life, loud, strong’

Donner followed “Superman” with an indie, “Inside Moves”, in 1980 and “The Toy” with Richard Pryor in 1982. In 1985 he created the adventure classics “The Goonies” and “Ladyhawke” for children, 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’s directing is truly the sexiest man in the world,” said Shuler Donner during a film academy tribute to the director in 2017.

She said that a director’s personality often reveals itself on screen.

“When you watch Dick’s movies, Dick is fun, bigger than life, loud, strong, with a big mushy heart,” she said. “His confidence, his fearlessness, his humor make people adore him and have wrapped themselves around me like a protective cloak.

“The combination of learning how to film from Richard Donner and falling in love with him has made me a better producer personally and professionally and a happier, more loving person,” she continued, calling “Ladyhawke” their “personal love story.”

“I am the hawk and he is the wolf,” she said.

In 1987, Donner cast Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a mismatched police couple in the buddy cop action movie “Lethal Weapon”. The film was a hit, spawning several sequels and a TV show.

“He was a master storyteller,” Gibson said in 2017. “He was humble. He had a sign above this door that said ‘Leave your ego at the door’, and there was no ego around him. It was actually hard. for me to walk into the room.”

Donner followed with the Bill Murray hit “Scrooged” in 1988 and “Lethal Weapon 2” the following year.

His other credits include ‘Maverick’, ‘Conspiracy Theory’ and ‘Radio Flyer’.

From actor to star director

Born Richard Donald Schwartzberg on April 24, 1930, in New York City, Donner changed his name when he wanted to become an actor.

He started working in television, directing episodes of “Gilligan’s Island”, “Perry Mason” and “The Twilight Zone”.

Off-camera, Donner was known for his extraordinary kindness and generosity, paying college tuition for one “Goonies” star (Jeff Cohen, now an entertainment attorney) and paying 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 children of my own and they became like my family,” he said.

Cohen, Feldman and ‘Lethal Weapon’ star Rene Russo were among those who praised Donner for his kindness during the 2017 film academy tribute.

“You were charming and funny and witty and all these amazing (things), but the thing that killed me was that you were nice,” Russo said. “You were so nice, and that 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 the captivity of killer whales.

Although some of Donner’s films earned him Oscar nominations, he was never nominated. But he had the opportunity to thank the academy—and its many friends and colleagues—for that tribute.

“This industry is my friend, and it’s the greatest gift in the world to me,” Donner said. “You are all my Oscar.”

( Jowharwith AP and AFP)

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