In the history of modern film, few directors have influenced culture with visions and ideas as heavy as those of Jonathan Demme. Today, the entertainment world suffered the loss of Demme. The legendary Oscar-winning director responsible for The Silence of the Lambs and The Manchurian Candidate has passed away at age 73.
First reported on Indiewire, sources close to the family claimed that the cause of death had been a combination of health problems, including esophageal cancer and heart disease, which Demme had been notably dealing with since 2010. Despite treatments, Demme’s condition apparently relapsed in 2015, and the director had been living with the issues since then.
Jonathan Demme was an active participant in Hollywood in a variety of positions across his film career, including writing, production, acting, cinematography, and other miscellaneous positions. His first director’s credit came in 1974 with the release of the female prison exploitation film, Caged Heat, but Demme was publicly active as early as 1971 alongside “The Pope of Pop Cinema” Roger Corman, working as a writer and producer on films such as Angels Hard as They Come and The Hot Box.
Perhaps some of the biggest highlights of Demme’s film career came in the 1990s with the release of two of his most applauded films, Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs. The Silence of the Lambs, in particular, the second in the series of movies featuring fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter, was a never-ending source of pop culture references that have endured to the current day.
Jonathan Demme’s staging of the disturbing elements of criminal insanity, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins as the iconic Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine as Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb, captured the fears and imaginations of audiences across the world. The Silence of the Lambs earned Demme his first Academy Award for Best Director and was the first (and as of this writing only) horror film ever awarded an Oscar for Best Picture, also earning awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay
Even so, Jonathan Demme continued to produce quality work throughout the coming decades. Demme directed the political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, nominated for numerous awards in 2005, and various one-off episodes of television series, including 2013’s The Killing and the much more recent Shots Fired in 2017. He was also the director behind various concert films and documentaries from his work on Stop Making Sense with the Talking Heads in 1984 to Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids in 2016.
Active even up until his passing, Demme last worked as a host on the series Saddle Up Saturdays, which was a retreading of old-time Western cinema, its actors, and their influence on the films that came after them. The last session of Saddle Up Saturdays appeared on March 25, 2017.
Demme is survived by his wife, artist Joanne Howard, and their three children. Howard acted as a production assistant during Demme’s efforts with Neil Young on one of a few documentaries centered on the famous musician.
Demme’s efforts were constant throughout Hollywood for his entire career, and his ideas spread through the media well beyond his own creations. Numerous references and nods to his films can be found throughout other television and film, including the likes of Family Guy, South Park, Clerks II, The Office (American version), Archer, and more. When Jonathan Demme was on top of his game, it sent undeniable waves through the entertainment world that could be felt for great lengths of time after. Despite Demme’s passing, the effects of his art and craft will most certainly continue to thrive, and the film community owes a great respect to his achievements and offerings.
[Featured Image by Cindy Ord/Getty Images]