It is with great sadness that we share the news that legendary filmmaker Jonathan Demme has died at the age of 73. Per IndieWire, the Oscar-winning director passed away from esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease, for which he was originally treated in 2010 and suffered a recurrence in 2015. He is survived by his wife, the artist Joanne Howard, and their three children.
Demme was, honestly, one of the most versatile filmmakers who ever lived. He first broke into the business in the early 70s working with producer Roger Corman and directing films like Caged Heat and Citizens Band. In the 80s, Demme delved into action romcom territory with Something Wild as well as the comedy Married to the Mob, while also helming one of the greatest music documentaries of all time: the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.
In the 90s, of course, Demme really soared. He won the Best Director Oscar for 1991’s masterful Silence of the Lambs, which is one of only three films to win Director, Picture, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay, not to mention the only horror film to ever win Best Picture. Demme then followed that up with 1993’s tremendous Philadelphia, which at the time was something of a controversial decision. The drama tackled the AIDS epidemic at a time when there was still great stigma surrounding the disease, and it’s a testament to Demme, Tom Hanks, and an admittedly reluctant Denzel Washington that they made a push to make this film and bring AIDS and the LGBT community to the forefront of the conversation. The movie won Tom Hanks a Best Actor Oscar.
In the subsequent years, Demme stretched his talents on a variety of films to varying degrees of success, such as the Charade remake The Truth About Charlie and the thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Demme returned to form in 2008 with Rachel Getting Married, and his most recent narrative feature was the lighthearted 2015 film Ricki and the Flash.
It is perhaps fitting that Demme’s final work was the tremendous and joyful concert documentary Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, released last year on Netflix. The film is a perfect example of Demme’s unique eye for character and finding the humanity in every shot—you can feel the energy of Timberlake and his band onstage, and that’s all Demme. The film is on Netflix right now and I highly recommend checking it out.
Demme leaves behind a legacy most directors would dream of having, but he is gone too soon. Our thoughts are with his family and friends in this difficult time.