, 91, died after helping to create the modern superhero blockbuster with 1978's "Superman" and mastering the buddy comedy
with the "Lethal Weapon" franchise.
Donner died in Los Angeles
on Monday, according to his family
Donner rose to prominence with his first feature, 1976's "The Omen," and was then offered a then-unheard-of $1 million to direct 1978's "Superman." Donner channeled his love of the character into making the film, repeatedly clashing with producers over the need for special effects that would convince the audience that a superhero could truly fly.
By the twenty-first century, the genre had taken over the box office
in the United States
and was thriving internationally. The heads of Marvel
Studios and DC Entertainment
—producers of the majority of today
's superhero fare—both worked for Donner when they were first starting out in Hollywood
Steven Spielberg, who produced “The Goonies,” said in a statement, “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.
On Monday, tributes poured in, including one 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 had ever laughed before. Dick was so much fun. What I perceived in him, as a 12-year-old kid, was that he cared. I love how much he cared.”
“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,” director Kevin Smith said on Twitter
“Richard Donner’s big heart & effervescent charm shone in his movies through the remarkable performances of his cast, which is no small feat. You remember all the characters in Superman, Lethal Weapon, The Goonies & more, because Donner knew how to capture that magic onscreen,” filmmaker Edgar Wright added.
Wright stated that he only met Donner once, but that 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, before making the children
's adventure classics "The Goonies" and "Ladyhawke" in 1985, which introduced him to his future wife
, Lauren Shuler Donner.
The following year, they married, and in 1993, they founded The Donners Company, which has produced hits such as "Deadpool," "The Wolverine," and the "X-Men" franchise. His films have grossed more than $1 billion in box office receipts when adjusted for inflation.
“Let me tell you, Dick Donner directing is truly the sexiest man alive
,” Shuler Donner said in 2017 at a film academy tribute to the director.
According to her, a director's personality is frequently revealed onscreen.
“If you look at Dick’s movies, you will see that he is fun, larger than life, loud, strong, and has a big mushy heart,” she said. “His confidence, fearlessness, and humor
are what make people
adore him and has wrapped around me like a protective cloak.
“The combination of learning filmmaking from Richard Donner and falling in love with him has made me a better producer and a happier, loving person,” she continued, calling “Ladyhawke” their “personal love story.”
“I'm the hawk, he's the wolf,” she explained.
Donner cast Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a mismatched police
pair in the buddy-cop action film "Lethal Weapon" in 1987, and the film was a box office success, 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 actually difficult for me to walk into the room.”
Donner's next films were the Bill Murray smash "Scrooged" in 1988 and "Lethal Weapon 2" the following year.
“Maverick,” “Conspiracy Theory
,” and “Radio Flyer” are among his other film credits.
Donner, who was born Richard Donald Schwartzberg in New York City
24, 1930, changed his name when he decided to become an actor.
“If it hadn't been for the great director Marty Ritt, I would have been an out-of-work actor now,” Donner said.
He remembered Ritt telling him, "Your problem is that you can't take direction," and suggesting that he pursue directing instead.
“And because I'd been hanging out with him a little bit, he said, 'You're my assistant on the next show,' and that changed my life,” Donner said.
He began directing episodes of "Gilligan's Island," "Perry Mason," and "The Twilight Zone" before moving
on to feature films.
Away from the camera, Donner was known for his extraordinary kindness
and generosity, having paid for college
tuition for one “Goonies” star (Jeff Cohen, now an entertainment attorney) and life-saving rehab for another (actor Corey Feldman).
In a 1985 interview
with The Associated Press
, Donner said that the young cast helped him get through the production.
“I never had my own children, and they became like family to me,” he explained.
At the 2017 film academy tribute, Cohen, Feldman, and "Lethal Weapon" star Rene Russo were among those who praised Donner for his generosity.
“You were charming, funny, witty, and all these amazing (things), but the thing that killed me was you were kind,” Russo said, “and that’s what makes you the sexiest man in the world.”
Donner and his wife were also passionate animal advocates, having rescued dozens of dogs
and fighting against killer whale
Though a few of Donner's films received Oscar nominations, he was never nominated; however, at that tribute, he had the opportunity to thank the academy — as well as his many friends
“This industry is my friend, and it has been the greatest gift in the world to me,” Donner said, adding, “You are all my Oscar.”
Sandy Cohen, a former Associated Press Entertainment Writer
, compiled the biographical information for this obituary