Iconic director Richard Donner, the prolific Hollywood filmmaker behind some of the most memorable movies of the 1970s and ’80s – from the modern superhero movie “Superman,” to the kid adventure “Goonies,” and the buddy cop series “Lethal Weapon” – died Monday. He was 91.
Donner’s production company confirmed his passing to USA TODAY without elaboration on the cause of death.
Sean Astin, star of the Donner-directed 1985 hit “Goonies,” tweeted a tribute Monday, citing the famed line, “Goonies never say die.”
“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.”
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The genial Donner, born Richard Donald Schwartzberg in the Bronx on April 24, 1930, gained fame with his first feature, 1976’s horror film “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 little-known Christopher Reeve in the starring role. The chisel-jawed actor shot to instant fame with the role and was associated with “Superman” for the rest of his life.
“Superman” was a $300 million box office hit that scored three Oscar nominations, including best score by John Williams, winning a special achievement Academy Award for its visual effects.
The film set the template for superhero movies to follow. By the 21st century, the genre was dominating the box office in the U.S. and worldwide box office.
A dispute with producers led to Donner taking his name off directing the 1980 follow-up “Superman II,” with credit going to Richard Lester who was brought in after Donner had shot the majority of the movie. A director’s cut that featured additional Donner-directed scenes was released in 2006.
In 1985, Donner directed the kids adventure “The Goonies,” with a script penned by Chris Columbus based on a story by Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg, who produced “The Goonies,” wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.
“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,” wrote Spielberg.
“He was all kid. All heart. All the time,” Spielberg added. “I can’t believe he’s gone, but his husky, hearty laugh will stay with me always.”
With 1987’s action film “Lethal Weapon,” Donner started a mega-franchise that paired Danny Glover with “Mad Max” star Mel Gibson as mismatched police partners. Donner directed all four “Lethal Weapon” movies in an 11-year span that grossed more than $900 million globally, and shot Gibson to superstar status.
Donner directed the 1988 Christmas classic “Scrooged” with Bill Murray as a selfish television executive and 1992’s coming-of-age drama “Radio Flyer.”
Contributing: The Associated Press