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Richard Donner, Director of ‘Superman’ and ‘The Goonies,’ Dies at 91

Donner found success on the big and small screens, in producing, animation, and more over the course of a long, prosperous career in Hollywood.

Richard Donner

Richard Donner at his Academy Tribute in 2017

ID / Variety

Richard Donner, director of the original “Superman” film as well as “The Goonies” and all four “Lethal Weapon” films, has died at the age of 91. Deadline reported that his wife, Lauren Schuler Donner and business manager confirmed his passing. No cause of death has been provided.

Richard Donner spent nearly two decades working on some of the best television programs of the 1960s and ’70s. His early work included directing episodes of “The Rifleman,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and “Perry Mason.” Later, he was behind the camera for “Get Smart,” “The Fugitive,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” and “Kojak.”

All that work in action and suspense paid off with back-to-back big screen hits in “The Omen” (1976) and “Superman” (1978). The horror classic starring Gregory Peck was nominated for two Oscars and won for Jerry Goldsmith’s score. The superhero film starring Christopher Reed was nominated for four Academy Awards and won a Special Achievement Award for visual effects.

The heralded film is widely credited with the genre’s ongoing success. He and his wife would later find further success in the superhero genre by producing films like “X-Men” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Schuler Donner went on to produce “Logan” with Hugh Jackman, “Legion” for FX, “The Gifted” for Fox, and many more Marvel properties.

Still, for all the credit Donner deserves for bringing men in tights from page to screen, his most well-known and longest-lasting franchise came with “Lethal Weapon.” Starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, the action-comedy reinvigorated the buddy cop dynamic, spawned three sequels in 11 years, and grossed nearly half-a-billion dollars — not adjusted for inflation.

Born in the Bronx, Richard Donald Schwartzberg attended Parker Junior College before heading across the bridge to NYU, where he majored in business and theater. Still, his professional career began as an actor, before he worked off-Broadway, stepped behind the camera to tinker with documentaries in the ’50s, and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he found success in television. (He even worked in animation, when he directed for Hanna-Barbera, the animation company behind the children’s series “The Banana Splits,” where his hand-held camerawork stood out.)

After the success of “The Omen” and “Superman,” Donner didn’t restrict himself to one genre. He went on to helm “The Goonies” and “Ladyhawke,” both in 1985, the Bill Murray-starring “Christmas Carol” comedy “Scrooged” in 1988, and even returned to television for three episodes of “Tales from the Crypt” in the late ’80s/early ’90s. He successfully teamed up with Gibson again for “Maverick” in 1994 and “Conspiracy Theory,” co-starring Julia Roberts, in 1997. His last credited directorial effort was the Bruce Willis and Mos Def action-thriller “16 Blocks” in 2006.

Donner has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is survived by Shuler Donner, whom he married in 1986.

Below are a selection of memories shared shortly after his passing.

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