By Josh Simpkins
Death sure hasn’t taken a break in 2017. (Take a holiday, man!) We have lost Mary Tyler Moore, John Hurt, Bill Paxton, and, most recently, Don Rickles, Charlie Murphy, and Erin Moran—among others. Sadly, I have yet another name to add to the list. It makes me miserable to report that prolific Oscar-winning writer, producer, and director Johnathan Demme has died due to esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease. He was 73 years old.
Demme began his career in 1970 as the music coordinator on John Hough’s Dramatic Crime-Thriller “Sudden Terror”—originally titled “Eyewitness.” He worked writing screenplays for the next few years until he received his big chance in the director’s chair on the 1974 Dramatic Action-Comedy “Caged Heat.” From there, Demme’s career was bolstered by many directorial efforts. In 1984, he directed Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell on “Swing Shift,” and in ’88, Michelle Pfeiffer and Alec Baldwin in “Married to the Mob.” In 1984, Demme also wrote and directed “Stop Making Sense,” a documentary about the Talking Heads that is considered to be one of the greatest and most innovative concert films to date. However, it was 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs” that skyrocketed Demme into legendary status.
“The Silence of the Lambs” is one of those films that stands the test of time. Stars Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster are at the peak of their acting prowess. It also holds the distinction of being the third film in history to win Academy Awards in all the top five categories, joining the ranks of Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” and Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Quite the accomplishment.
Following “The Silence of the Lambs,” Demme used his newly established power and influence in Hollywood to make “Philadelphia.” It was a very controversial movie at the time and one of the first major studio films to tackle the AIDS crisis. Not to mention a movie that won Tom Hanks his first Oscar for playing homosexual lawyer Andrew Beckett. Most recently, the director made 2015’s “Ricki and the Flash,” starring Meryl Streep as an aging rocker who must return home to Indiana due to a family crisis. Overall, the film disappointed at the box office and reviews varied, though I gave it a fair and positive critique. How can a film directed by Johnathan Demme, written by Diablo Cody, and featuring Meryl Streep go wrong?
As Hollywood mourns the loss of yet another heavyweight let us take the time to cherish the ones we have left and remember Demme’s body of work; from quirky ’80s comedies “Melvin and Howard” and “Something Wild” to his later, more dramatic work like “Beloved” and “Rachel Getting Married.” Rest in Paradise, Johnathan Demme.