Jonathan Demme, 73

Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme has died after a battle with esophageal cancer. He was 73.

Demme is one of the many A-list  who got his start working for Roger Corman. Demme worked with Corman as co-writer and producer on films such as 1971’s Angels As Hard As They Come, and 1972’s Rio Tigre and The Hot Box. In 1974, Demme moved on to directing films he wrote for Corman, including  Caged Heat, Crazy Mama and Fighting Mad.  

His first post-Corman film was 1977’s Citizen Band (also known as Handle With Care), which tied into the CB craze of the 1970’s. He followed that with 1979’s Last Embrace and gained mainstream notice the next year with the film Melvin and Howard, which earned an Oscar nomination for Jason Robards and won an Oscar for Mary Steenburgen.

While also directing Hollywood features such as the 1984 Goldie Hawn film Swing Shift, Demme became one of the most notable Hollywood directors to embrace directing music videos. He directed videos for New Order, UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, Bruce Springsteen and Talking Heads. Through the latter, Demme moved into the field of directing feature length concert films/musical documentaries starting with 1984’s seminal Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense. He would also direct three documentaries about Neil Young (2006’s Heart of Gold, 2009’s Trunk Show, and 2011’s Journeys). His last film would be in this genre–2016’s Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids.

He would also film the Spalding Gray stage monologue, Swimming to Cambodia.

In 1986, Demme experienced one of his first major hits with the quirky comedy Something Wild. This would begin a period of great creativity for the director. He followed that film two years later with the mob-comedy Married to the Mob.

The next year, Demme was tapped to adapt a Thomas Harris thriller to the big screen. That adaptation was 1990’s Silence of the Lambs and it earned Demme a Best Director Oscar. The film also won for Best Picture, Anthony Hopkins as Best Actor, Jodie Foster for Best Actress and Ted Tally for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Demme’s follow-up was the AIDS drama Philadelphia, which earned Tom Hanks the first of his two consecutive Oscars for Best Actor.

Demme also directed the literary adaptation Beloved, the remakes of The Manchurian Candidate and Charade (called The Truth About Charlie) and the indie film Rachel Getting Married.  His last narrative film was 2015’s Ricki and the Flash.

He was known for using actors again and again in his films, most notably Charles Napier. Napier appeared in 10 of Demme’s films. Demme was also the uncle of film director Ted Demme, who died in 2002.


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About William Gatevackes 1985 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken, and in Comics Foundry magazine.
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Michael C Lorah
April 27, 2017 5:43 am

I went to see his concert film “Neil Young Trunk Show” at the Landmark Sunshine on New York, and he (and the cinematographer) came and watched with the audience. Then he answered questions and held court for a good 20-30 minutes afterward. A very cool experience with a very sweet man. He was even patient (and agreed) with the drunk guy who complained repeatedly that the theatre’s sound wasn’t loud enough (I also agreed, but silently).