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Jonathan Demme, Oscar-Winning Director of ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ Dies At 73

From "Rachel Getting Married" to "Philadelphia" and more, Demme left his mark on the industry with one of the most varied directing careers imaginable.

Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme

AGF s.r.l./REX/Shutterstock

Jonathan Demme, the filmmaker whose career ranged from the David Byrne documentary “Stop Making Sense” to the Oscar-winning “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” died this morning in New York. He was 73.

READ MORE: Watch: Jonathan Demme and the Close-Up Shot: A Video Essay

The cause was esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease, according to a source close to the family. He was originally treated for the disease in 2010, but suffered from a recurrence in 2015, and his condition deteriorated in recent weeks.

Demme maintained a private personal life, but his career was marked by a remarkably versatile creative output that included acclaimed narratives and documentaries films stretching back to the early ’70s. He made his debut with the 1971 biker film “Angels Hard as They Come,” a Roger Corman production during the B-movie producer’s heyday, but his career reached another plane of critical and commercial success with a string of ’80s dramas, including “Melvin and Howard, “Swing Shift,” and “Something Wild.”

Demme reached a new plane of success in the next decade, with the back-to-back releases of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia.” At the same time, he remained an active documentarian, creating the definitive Talking Heads film “Stop Making Sense,” in addition to three films with Neil Young.

More recently, Demme directed the Meryl Streep comedy “Ricki and the Flash” in 2015 and the concert documentary “Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids” in 2016. He was reportedly in pre-production on a new project, and continued to curate series at the Jacob Burns Film Center, where he was the chairman of the board. His last series was “Saddle Up Saturdays,” a westerns retrospective that ran through March 2017.

Demme is survived by his wife, the artist Joanne Howard, and their three children.

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Really sad news, he was a truly versatile director.


Sad news. But “Stop Making Sense” is a “David Byrne documentary”? He made one of the greatest concert films ever…not really the same thing!

    Benoit Côté



      Looks like it was changed right after I posted that.


Demo lived in a gorgeous house on the Hudson in Nyack, NY. Used to see him regularly at the deli across from his house. He was such a frequent customer that he actually hired one of the guys behind the counter- a young Irish looking guy to be in ” Philadelphia.”


I used to deliver to him as a UPS driver. Always such a nice guy. He and I share a birthday. My condolences to his family, I hope his poodles are well taken care of.


A great talent and a great person. I sent him a script he couldn’t use and didn’t ask for, and he had one of his assistants personally call me. Standard treatment at that time was dead silence, or a form letter if you’re lucky.

Kerry R Jennings

Sad loss


Demme is survived by his wife Joanne and their three children, found her here RIP


He also direct Shots Fired, which is still running…


too many talented people being lost of late, sad deal


i hope every Polanski supporter suffers and deteriorates

Andy Howe

What a shame that his last feature film directing job was that horrible Meryl Streep vanity piece.

Jonathan D

Really sad news, he was really nice director

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