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Director Richard Donner, A Pioneer In The Action-Adventure Genre, Has Died

Richard Donner attends a 2017 tribute to his work.
AFP via Getty Images
Richard Donner attends a 2017 tribute to his work.

Director Richard Donner, a pioneer of action-adventure movies, has died. He was 91. His death was confirmed by a spokesperson with Warner Bros. No cause has been disclosed.

He is survived by his wife, producer Lauren Shuler Donner; they met during the making of the 1985 movie Ladyhawke. Together, they founded The Donners Company, whose credits include the X-Men and Free Willy franchises.

Donner gave generations of moviegoers something to love. Baby boomers might know his work directing TV episodes of the original Twilight Zone, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Gilligan's Island — it was Donner who directed the classic Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" starring William Shatner. In 1978, he dazzled audiences with Superman, starring Christopher Reeves as "the man of steel." In the next decade, The Goonies, produced by Steven Spielberg, became a major hit with kids. The bro-cop-action-comedy Lethal Weapon, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, was such a commercial hit, Donner directed three more. Just last year Donner told The Daily Telegraph that Lethal Weapon 5 was on its way.

Donner's movies were not always beloved by critics. "So hollow-headed it rattles," wrote The New York Times' Vincent Canby of Donner's first feature film The Omen, starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remnick. Nevertheless, The Omen was an enormous commercial success that spawned multiple sequels.

In 2017, the Library of Congress added Donner's Superman to the National Film Registry. Michael Cavna, creator of the "Comic Riffs" column in The Washington Post, praised the selection — saying "Donner's sense of story and demand for great special effects, paired with Reeve's winning, sometimes screwball-comedy charm, elevated the movie."

Donner influenced generations of film-makers, including his friend and mentee Steven Spielberg, who paid tribute on Twitter:

"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."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.