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Hollywood director Richard Donner dies at 91

July 6, 2021

Tributes from actors and fellow directors poured in on social media. Donner, a prolific filmmaker, was also known for classics such as "The Omen," "Scrooged" and the "Lethal Weapon" franchise.

Regisseur Richard Donner
Richard Donner gained fame with his first feature in 1976, The OmenImage: 20th Century fox Film Corp./Everett Collection/picture alliance

US filmmaker Richard Donner, known for directing the first "Superman" movie and "The Goonies" among other Hollywood classics, died in Los Angeles on Monday at the age of 91, his family said through a spokesperson.

The cause of death was not revealed by Donner's business manager or producer wife Lauren Schuler Donner.

Donner, born Richard Donald Schwartzberg on April 24, 1930, in New York City to Jewish parents, changed his name when he set out to become an actor.

Richard Donner, pictured in the 2017 documentary LADDIE: THE MAN BEHIND THE MOVIES.
Richard Donner's career was particularly tied to productions either aimed at children, or also aimed at childrenImage: Laddie Movie/Courtesy Everett Collection/picture alliance

He changed course along the way and finally shot to fame after directing his first feature film, the 1976 horror classic "The Omen."

What followed was a million-dollar offer, unheard of until then, to direct the 1978 movie "Superman." 

Donner cast Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, who remained associated with the character for the rest of his life.

He would repeatedly face off with the producers over the need for special effects that would make the superhero's flying abilities more convincing to the audience.

Actor Christopher Reeve is shown in a scene from the film "Superman" in this 1978 handout photo.
Richard Donner cast Christopher Reeve as Superman in his 1978 classicImage: AP/TMS & C DC Comics Inc

In 1985, Donner made the kids' adventure classic "The Goonies" which would introduce him to his future wife, Lauren.

The two married the following year and in 1993, founded the Donner Company that produced movies such as "Deadpool," "Wolverine" and the "X-Men" franchise.

"Goonies" star Sean Austin was among the many who paid tribute to the director on Monday.

"Richard Donner had the biggest, boomiest voice you could imagine," he said on Twitter. "What I perceived in him, as a 12 year old kid, is that he cared. I love how much he cared," he added.

Fellow director Steven Spielberg, who produced the movie, also put out a statement praising Donner's life and work.

"Dick had such a powerful command of his movies and was so gifted across so many genres," he said. "Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favorite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and — of course — the greatest Goonie of all. He was all kid. All heart. All the time."

Donner is also known for the "Lethal Weapon" buddy-cop action films starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. He directed four movies in the franchise starting in 1987 and was set to return for the fifth and final movie of the series. His final movie was "16 Blocks" in 2006.

adi/msh (AP, AFP)