According to his manager, Ireland recently suffered from flu-like symptoms, but the exact cause of death is unknown.
The Canadian-born filmmaker co-founded the Seattle International Film Festival in 1975 with Darryl Macdonald. He ran the event until 1986. During his time there, he booked some of the festival’s most talked-about films, including Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist,” Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Blood Simple,” Richard Rush’s “The Stunt Man,” Irwin Kirshner’s “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Alien” by Ridley Scott.
In 1986, he moved to Los Angeles to lead film acquisition for Vestron Pictures. For the following three years, he executive produced projects that included “Paperhouse” by Bernard Rose, “The Rainbow,” “Salome’s Last Dance” and “Lair of the White Worm” by Ken Russell.
It wasn’t until 1995 that he decided to make his directional debut with the 1930s Texas-set film “The Whole Wide World,” starring Renée Zellweger and Vincent D’Onofrio. The project was a biopic about pulp-fiction writer Robert E. Howard, who created Conan the Barbarian. His feature garnered positive attention from critics such as Roger Ebert, and was nominated for the grand jury prize at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival.
He went on to helm movies such as 1998’s “The Velocity of Gary,” starring D’Onofrio along with Salma Hayek and Thomas Jane, “Passionada” (2002), a romantic comedy starring Emmy Rossum, Sofia Milos and Jason Isaacs, and “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” (2005), with Joan Plowright as a women who flees from her life in Scotland and meets a writer in London.
His last film was the 2008 indie “Jolene” with Jessica Chastain, who upon hearing the news tweeted: “The sweetest angel left us. Called his voicemail just to hear his voice once more. I’ll miss you baby.”
In September, it was announced that Ireland would helm “Life Briefly” with Ashley Judd and Bill Paxton. Scheduled for a 2017 release, the film depicted the life of Brian Knapp, a blind musician who conquered his disability by becoming a world class drummer and guitarist.
The director’s manager told The Hollywood Reporter that financing for the film had fallen through at the last minute, but that production was slated to resume shortly. No word on what the future plans of this project will be.