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Luminaries mourn death of film producer Bernd Eichinger

German film and political luminaries are mourning the death of Bernd Eichinger, widely considered to be Germany's most important postwar film producer. He died suddenly from a heart attack in Los Angeles at age 61.

Portrait: Bernd Eichinger

His untimely and sudden death came as a shock to Germany

Academy Award-winning German film producer Bernd Eichinger died unexpectedly of a heart attack at his Los Angeles home late Monday night, a press release by his production company Constantin Film confirmed.

Eichinger apparently died suddenly during a dinner with family and friends. He left behind a wife, journalist Katja Hofmann, and a daughter, German TV personality Nina Eichinger.

"We're all shocked by this incomprehensible news and feel for the family, who have our deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences," the Constantin Film statement said. "Bernd was at the heart of Constantin film for more than 30 years and he made a mark on the national and international film industry."

Katja Hofmann, Bernd Eichinger, and Nina Eichinger, left to right

Eichinger took his wife, Katja Hofmann (left) and daughter Nina, to the Munich premiere of "The Baader Meinhof Complex"

Indeed, Eichinger was among the best-known German film producers of the postwar era. His breakthrough came in 1981 with Christiane F.: We Children from Bahnhof Zoo, directed by Uli Edel. It provided a look at the seedy life of a child prostitute and drug addict in West Berlin. With Edel, Eichinger later on made "Last Exit to Brooklyn."

A film scene from Baader Meinhof Complex

His latest major effort took on the modern German myth, The Baader-Meinhof gang

Eichinger's film career spanned 30 years, and included pictures such as "Downfall," "Perfume," "The NeverEnding Story," "The Name of the Rose," and "Nowhere in Africa," which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 2003.

Eichinger also wrote the screenplay for the 2005 controversial Nazi drama "Downfall," which starred Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in his last days. He was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for that effort.

His last film of note was "The Baader Meinhof Complex," which told the story of the far-left German terrorist group known as the Red Army Faction.

Bruno Ganz as Hitler

Bruno Ganz played Hitler in the controversial 'Downfall', writen by Eichinger

Luminaries from German media and politics commented on the shocking early death of a film-business icon.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters: "Our cinema has not only lost one of the most successful producers of the past decades but also one of its most passionate boosters and dreamers."

And Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said: "We would all have liked to see him make many more films."

"Bernd Eichinger was perhaps the most important, and original, filmmaker in postwar Germany; perhaps the only one to really make it on the world stage," Jan Schütte, director of the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin, told dpa news service.

Til Schweiger portrait

Heartthrob Schweiger started his career with Eichinger

Wolfgang Petersen is another German who made it big in Hollywood; he directed the Eichinger-produced film "The NeverEnding Story." Petersen told dpa news service he was driving in his car in Santa Monica when he heard the "totally shocking news" of Eichinger's death.

"He was a brother, a friend and a partner for me, who was unbelievably serious about his creative obsession," he said.

German heartthrob Til Schweiger was also stunned by the early demise of his friend and mentor. Speaking at the Berlin premier of his latest film, Schweiger - whose road to fame started in two Eichinger-produced German comedies - said the producer's death was "hopelessly sad … none of us can achieve what Bernd managed to do."

Plans for a memorial service or burial haven't yet been announced.

Author: Herbert Peckmann / jen
Editor: Michael Lawton

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