Arts & Entertainment

Jonathan Demme, director of 'Silence of the Lambs,' dies at 73

Jodie Foster and director Jonathan Demme at The Academy Museum presents 25th Anniversary event of
Jodie Foster and director Jonathan Demme at The Academy Museum presents 25th Anniversary event of "Silence Of The Lambs" at The Museum of Modern Art on April 20, 2016 in New York City.
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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."

Silence of the Lambs movie trailer

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."

Justin Timberlake trailer

Other members of the film community reacted to Demme's death: