Jonathan Demme, ‘Silence of the Lambs’ director, dead at 73

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Jonathan Demme, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, has passed away at the age of 73.

Demme’s publicist Leslee Dart confirmed that the director had died of complications from esophageal cancer of which Demme revealed in 2015 that he had been battling.

“Sadly, I can confirm that Jonathan passed away early this morning in his Manhattan apartment, surrounded by his wife, Joanne Howard, and three children,” the publicist said. There will be a private family funeral.

 

Jonathan Demme is best known for directing a large number of films, such as “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” and “Rachel Getting Married,” among many others. “The Silence of the Lambs,” perhaps Demme’s best known film, earned five Oscars, including best director and best picture. His next film, “Philadelphia,” earned two Oscar wins and five nominations.

Anthony Hopkins, left, with director Jonathan Demme.

Anthony Hopkins, left, with director Jonathan Demme.

The director also had a deep interest in music. In 1984, he directed the Talking Head’s critically acclaimed concert film, “Stop Making Sense.”

Demme was born in Baldwin, New York, on Long Island, in 1944. He was raised mostly on Long Island, until his family moved to Miami, Florida, where he attended high school.

After graduating from high school, Demme attneded the University of Florida, with the intention of becoming a veterinarian, until he failed chemistry. He then moved on to the university’s newspaper and, after realizing that the paper had no movie critic, took on the job himself as a way to get into movies for free.

Demme continued as a movie critic after college, writing for a Coral Gables, Florida, shopping guide, before moving on to work in publicity and eventually moving on to producing films himself.

Unlike many directors of his generation, Demme didn’t go to film school. He broke into the industry through a friendship with cult filmmaker Roger Corman, who hired him to write and direct such low-budget genre movies as “Caged Heat,” about inmates in a women’s prison.

Demme’s critical breakthrough was “Melvin and Howard,” a 1980 film about a much-disputed encounter between gas station owner Melvin Dummar and reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.

 

demme silence lambs
“Silence of the Lambs” for which he was best known. The 1991 movie, based on Thomas Harris’ novel, swept the Academy Awards the following year, winning Oscars for best picture and its two stars, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, whose Hannibal Lecter character became a cultural icon. Demme also won the Oscar for best director.

The movie was a box-office hit, spawned several sequels and a TV series, and chilled viewers with its portrait of Lecter, a refined but cannibalistic serial killer who bragged about eating a victim’s liver “with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

Those who worked with Demme spoke very highly of him. Jodie Foster, who starred as Clarice Starling in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” paid tribute to the director, calling him “a friend, a mentor, a guy so singular and dynamic you’d have to design a hurricane to contain him.”

 

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“Jonathan was as quirkly as his comedies and as deep as his dramas,” Foster had said to the BBC. “He was pure energy, the unstoppable cheerleader for anyone creative. Just as passionate about music as he was about art, he was and will always be a champion of the soul. JD, most beloved, something wild, brother of love, director of the lambs. Love that guy. Love him so much.”

He also was a big lover of music, filling his movies with songs and directing documentaries or videos for such artists as Neil Young, the Pretenders, Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake.

 

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