Jonathan Demme, the Oscar-winning director of "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," and whose Talking Heads documentary "Stop Making Sense" is considered one of the greatest concert films ever, has died. He was 73.
For more than four decades, Jonathan Demme threaded a diverse path through the film industry — beginning as a publicist, filming everything from documentaries to comedic sendups, and finally earning the status of Oscar-winning elder statesman.
Demme's publicist, Annalee Paulo, said Demme died Wednesday morning in his New York apartment, surrounded by his wife, Joanna, and three children. Demme died from complications from esophageal cancer, she said.
Demme broke into moviemaking under the B-movie master Roger Corman in the early 1970s. His eclectic, prodigious body of films included 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs," for which he won the best director Oscar. Other credits include "Something Wild," ''Rachel Getting Married" and the Spalding Grey documentary "Swimming to Cambodia."
Jodie Foster, who won the best actress Oscar for "The Silence of the Lambs," spoke about Demme today on KPCC's The Frame:
To other people, it did seem like Jonathan went off in all sorts of crazy tangents whether it was Bob Marley or Haiti or documentaries. He did lots of documentaries, veering back and forth between art and music and drama and comedy. But there was this central common denominator, which was Jonathan's crazy, feisty spirit. He just was somebody who was completely engaged with everything in our world and full of fire, humor and love and energy.
I think that he's the kind of director who gets inside of the actors, who climbs inside the actor's mouth, goes down into their body, inhabits their body and is there with you in the emotional experience. I always felt him behind the camera. I could feel him laughing with me. I could feel him tearing up with me. I could just feel him being part of the experience. He's just this incredibly compassionate and crazily excited about everything guy.
Producer Ed Saxon, who worked with Demme on several films, including "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," also remembered Demme on The Frame:
What was interesting to me regarding Jonathan's directing style, as regarding actors and everybody, was he was really a cheerleader. He felt that anybody, whether it was the department head or an actor, was responsible for their own work. His job was really to help them feel seen and recognize. He was, in many ways, the guy who put the wind beneath people's wings.
Jonathan said to me once, "What we choose to make is the statement we're making about ourselves and our culture." It was very important to him that we be conscious of the times that we're living in and that the work be relevant even if it was a comedy.
Demme last year released his latest concert film, "Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids."
Other members of the film community reacted to Demme's death:
- "Jonathan taught us how big a heart a person can have, and how it will guide how we live and what we do for a living. He was the grandest of men…" — actor Tom Hanks
- "Jonathan Demme was a great artist, humanitarian, activist & a warm encouraging colleague. I've known very few like him. He will be missed." — director Ron Howard
- "Deeply sad to hear my friend, neighbor, and colleague Jonathan Demme has passed on. He was one of the real good guys. I miss you, buddy." — writer Stephen King
- "Sad to hear that Jonathan Demme has passed." — actor Elijah Wood
- "Jonathan Demme was a gifted and versatile filmmaker. RIP." — actor Michael McKean
- "Jonathan Demme was a singular director who made vitally human films. His 'Something Wild' is a seminal movie for me. So sad he's gone." — actor and writer Pat Healy
- "Oh no. Jonathan Demme. One of our great filmmakers one of the most beautiful souls on the planet. Another magical irreplaceable friend gone." — musician Stevie Van Zandt
- "Heartbroken to hear of Jonathan Demme's passing. Among the greatest privileges of my life was briefly experiencing his kindness and genius." — actor Ben Platt, who appeared in Demme's "Ricki and the Flash"