Director-producer Richard Donner, who is best known for making blockbuster films like the Christopher Reeves starrer Superman and comedy features like the Lethal Weapon films, The Goonies, and The Scrooged, has passed away at the age of 91 on July 5, 2021.
As reported by Deadline, the news of Richard Donner’s death has been shared by his wife Lauren Schuler Donner, who has also been his producing partner in some of his films. In a brief interview with the publication, she expressed her profound sadness at losing her husband but added that she was very lucky to have been with such a “great man.” She also extended her sympathy to movie lovers across the globe who were big fans of the films and shows Donner directed in his rich career of almost 60 years. While she didn’t reveal the cause of his death, she shared that he had been very sick for some time and thus, “it was time for him to go.”
Initially, Richard Donner began his career as an actor but transitioned to directing commercials and then, television shows in the late 1950s starting from directing a few episodes of the western dramas Wanted Dead or Alive and The Rifleman. He went on to direct many other renowned shows like Route 66, The Twilight Zone, Gilligan’s Island, Perry Mason, Kojak, The Fugitive, and The Wild Wild West.
Richard Donner directed his first feature film in 1961, the aviation drama X-15 starring Charles Bronson and Mary Tyler Moore. He directed his next film, Salt and Pepper n 1968 and Lola in 1969. It was after 1976’s blockbuster horror flick The Omen, which earned two Oscar nominations and ended up becoming the fifth-highest-grossing movie of that year, that Donner had majorly focused on directing films.
In his career, Richard Donner has been a part of two major film series- Superman and Lethal Weapon. He has directed the 1978’s Superman starring Christopher Reeve as the caped superhero, alongside Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Bed Beatty, and Gene Hackman. The film was an instant hit and earned over $300 million at the box office on a budget of $55 million. While this meant that Richard Donner was the obvious choice for directing Superman II, tensions arose between him and the producers of the film which led to the hiring of Richard Lester (The Three Musketeers) as an uncredited associate producer and mediator between them as they were not on speaking terms.
But by 1979, the decision to remove Richard Donner and replace him with Richard Lester was taken. The step ended up creating many problems for Superman II as the cast and crew were not happy with the removal of Donner. Creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz, editor Stuart Baird, and actor Gene Hackman declined to return for re-shoots of the sequel. And despite Lester’s offer, Donner refused to be credited as co-director even though he had shot more than 75% of the film. In 2006, the director’s cut of the film with all of the footage shot by Donner in 1977 was finally released.
After Superman, Richard Donner moved on to another Warner Bros. franchise- the four blockbuster Lethal Weapon films he shot in a span of 11 years. The films, which grossed more than $900 million globally, reinvigorated the buddy cop film genre and turned its lead actor, Mel Gibson into an overnight star.