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Richard Donner, Director of the First Superman Film, Dies at 91

Photo Credit: Richard Donner photo - Toastie 14 - CC 2.0 GA

Richard Donner, the American director known for films like The Omen (1976), Superman (1978), and the Lethal Weapon series, died on Monday. He was 91.

The cause of his death was not revealed, as per a report on Deadline.

Born in 1930 to Jewish parents, Donner initially aspired to become an actor and graduated with a major in business and theatre from New York University. After landing a small part in Martin Ritt’s television show Of Human Bondage, Donner was advised by Ritt to take up direction instead.

Donner worked as an assistant to Ritt and then went on to direct commercials. He entered into the arena of television dramas in the 1950s. His television credits include series such as Kojak, The Fugitive, Combat!, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., From Agnes- With Love, Danger Island, and The Banana Splits, to name a few.

Although Donner’s feature film debut happened in 1961 with the low-budget film X-15, starring Charles Bronson and Mary Tyler Moore, it was only in 1976 that he got his breakthrough. The supernatural horror film The Omen set the stage for Donner, and he followed it up with Superman in 1978.

Superman, featuring Christopher Reeve as the protagonist, alongside Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, catapulted Donner to international fame and acclaim despite his fallout with producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, which resulted in his exit from Superman II.

However, he went on to release Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, the re-edited cut of the 1980 sequel, in 2006.

Among his most successful ventures was the Lethal Weapon film series, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, that spanned four films from 1987 to 1998.

His last directorial was the 2006 Bruce Willis-starrer 16 Blocks.

Along with his wife Lauren Shuler Donner, he executive produced big-budget films like Marvel Comics’ X- Men (2000) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), under their banner The Donners’ Company.

Donner received several awards honouring his career in cinema, including the Hollywood Film Award for Outstanding Achievement in Directing and the President’s Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.

In November 2010, Donner released his biography You’re the Director… You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner, authored by James Christie.

Several members from the industry took to social media to pay their tribute to the late filmmaker.

Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Pictures wrote on Twitter: “Steven Spielberg reflects on the passing of Richard Donner, friend, and beloved director of The Goonies for Amblin Entertainment, who passed away today at 91.” Attached was a note from Spielberg, crediting Donner with having a “powerful command of his movies” and being “gifted across so many genres”, as well as a photo of the two.


Actor Sean Astin, who starred in The Goonies (1985), wrote: “Richard Donner had the biggest, boomiest voice you 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. – Goonies Never Say Die”

Justice League director Zack Snyder shared the poster of Superman and said, “Thank you, Richard Donner. You made me believe.”

Donner is survived by his wife and co-owner of their production company Lauren Shuler Donner.
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