Director-producer Richard Donner, best known for directing the “Lethal Weapon” film series, “The Goonies” and the original “Superman” film, passed away on Monday. He was 91 years old.
Donner’s production company confirmed the news of his death to Variety, although the cause has not been revealed.
While not his first big-screen effort, his big break came with 1976’s “The Omen,” starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. Subsequently, he brought his know-how to the first “Superman”. He also went into production (“Free Willy”, “The Lost Boys”), usually with his wife Lauren Shuler Donner – he produced the huge 2000 hit “X-Men” and later the prequel ” X-Men Origins: Wolverine. ”But his career was highlighted by the series“ Lethal Weapon, ”starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, which elevated him to directors grossing over $ 1 billion at the box. -office.
Born Richard Donald Schwartzberg in the Bronx, he attended Parker Junior College and then NYU, where he majored in business and theater. Donner, who started his career on the other side of the camera as an actor, quickly went on to become a television director, perfecting his craft working on shows such as “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” “The Twilight Zone. “,” The Man From UNCLE “and” The Fugitive “.
He studied acting with David Alexander and Dort Clark and worked regularly, mainly off Broadway in the early 1950s. During his appearance in Martin Ritt’s television production “Of Human Bondage,” Donner took advice to heart. of the director. “Marty told me that I would never be successful as an actor because I couldn’t take the lead,” he once said, “but he thought I could give it and got me. offered a job as an assistant.
Donner then bonded with documentary filmmaker George Blake, starting as a driver and eventually working his way up the ranks to make documentaries, industrial films and commercials. After Blake’s death, Donner moved to Los Angeles, where he embarked on television directing in 1959 with Steve McQueen’s Western series “Wanted: Dead or Alive”. He then directed episodes of “Perry Mason”, “Route 66”, “The Fugitive”, “The Man From UNCLE”, “Get Smart”, “The Six Million Dollar Man”, “Kojak” and “The Streets of San Francisco. “He did some of his most memorable television work for Rod Serling on” The Twilight Zone, “particularly the 1963 episode” Nightmare at 20,000ft, “with William Shatner.
Donner also worked for the animation company Hanna-Barbera, directing several episodes of “Danger Island,” which is part of the children’s series “The Banana Splits,” where his hand-held camera work stood out.
In 1961, he directed his first film, the low budget “X-15”, with Charles Bronson. He also directed a few British films, “Salt and Pepper” and “Twinky” (aka “Lola”) in the 1960s as well as “Child Bride” in 1969. He broke into the making of long-running television programs with such efforts as the 1975 TV dramas “A Shadow in the Streets” and “Sarah T .: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic”.
Making full use of what he had learned about “The Twilight Zone,” Donner broke into the feature film arena with “The Omen,” a 1976 hit thriller that led to a plum mission, bringing in “Superman” to the big screen in 1978. He left the sequel to the blockbuster film in an ultimately contentious dispute with film producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind. The film was picked up by Richard Lester, although much of Donner’s work remains in the finished film, albeit uncredited. In 2006, “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” was released on DVD the same day Bryan Singer’s reboot of the franchise “Superman Returns” debuted in home video.
Working from a screenplay by Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin, Donner made one of his smaller and more personal films, “Inside Moves” from the 1980s, but despite respectful advice, it didn’t perform well. at the box office. It was followed by Richard Pryor’s comedy “The Toy” in 1982.
Donner began adding production to his credits, many in conjunction with his wife Lauren Shuler Donner, with films such as “Omen III: The Final Conflict” and later “The Lost Boys”, “Delirious”, as well as ” Demon Knight “(1995) and” Bordello of Blood “, features from the HBO series” Tales From the Crypt “which he also produced from 1989 to 1991. In the 1990s he also produced the alluring trilogy of films for children “Free Willy”.
Donner really took off starting with the 1982 romantic adventure “Ladyhawke”, followed by “The Goonies” (by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin) and especially the action franchise “Lethal Weapon”, the first entry in which is appeared in 1987. Three subsequent sequels were all successful, and he also teamed up with Gibson for “Maverick” and “Conspiracy Theory”.
He continued into the 1990s as a reliable mainstream director-producer via films such as “Scrooged,” starring Bill Murray, and “Assassins,” starring Sylvester Stallone. He also produced Oliver Stone’s drama “Any Given Sunday” for the NFL in 1999.
Donner also directed and produced the 2003 time travel story “Timeline”, and in 2006, Bruce Willis actor “16 Blocks”. He was executive producer of director Singer’s “X-Men,” which grossed $ 297 million worldwide in 2000, and his previous 2009 hit, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which grossed $ 379 million. of dollars in the world.
He is survived by Shuler Donner, whom he married in 1986.