Zombie King George A. Romero Dies At 77

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Hollywood Horror King George A. Romero, the director behind Night Of The Living Dead, has passed away at age 77, according to his family. Following a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer,” as disclosed in a statement from his longtime production partner Peter Grunwald, the famed filmmaker died in his sleep on Sunday. Family members were at his bedside, and he passed as he was listening to the music score from one of his favorite movies, the 1952 film The Quiet Man.

Romero is widely known as the Godfather of the Zombie Genre, as he and co-writer John A. Russo brought the classic horror staple to life on the big screen in 1968 with Night Of The Living Dead. That movie helped spark an entire film category, with devout followers from all walks of life. Directors still follow much of the formula of Romero’s original film, and zombie flicks are still some of the most popular films in the horror movie class today.

With Night Of The Living Dead, Romero showed that truly horrifying movie experiences can be created without a huge budget. The film was shot mostly at an old cemetery and a farmhouse, both located in rural Western Pennsylvania. The film was also highly socially charged, casting an African American as the lead in the midst of a volatile Civil Rights push in the United States.

The success of Night Of The Living Dead translated into much more than just an exploding film genre. AMC’s The Walking Dead, one of TV’s most popular shows for several years running, is a story of survival after the zombie apocalypse based on the graphic novel from writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore. The Resident Evil video game series birthed even more creative works into the zombie universe. Comedic parody movies abound, such as Shaun Of The Dead and Dead And Breakfast. And there are even more serious films that step away from the classic Dead rules, but still espouse the idea of mindless, animalistic, flesh-craving enemies, as seen in 28 Days Later. Of course, it is impossible to discuss works influenced by George A. Romero without mentioning Micheal Jackson’s “Thriller,” and the music video that featured a choreographed zombie mob dancing in the streets.

From music to merchandising to a Halloween costume standard, George A Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead has influenced the horror genre for decades, and fans’ love for all things zombie doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. But Romero was more than just the godfather of zombie flicks. He was also involved in the 1970s TV documentary series The Winners, which focused on sports and athletes that excelled in their fields. Romero also had several acting and voice-over credits to his name, as well as production, editing, and cinematographer over his decades-long career.

A 'zombie mob' in the streets of Venice, Italy during the Venice Carnival in February.
Zombie Mob - a crowd of people in zombie cosplay in the streets of Venice, Italy during the 'Venice Carnival' in February. [Image By Luca Bruno/AP Images]Featured image credit: Luca BrunoAP Images

But the zombie genre, and horror movies in general, were far and away his most important contribution to the movie industry, and his biggest creative love. Though zombie lore has been around for a long time, dating back to at least the 16th Century, and can be seen in such time-honored traditions as the holiday “Día de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) celebrated throughout Central and South America, zombie stories didn’t really become mainstream until Romero put his stamp on it. From Night Of The Living Dead came Dawn Of The Dead (1978), Land Of The Dead (2005), Diary Of The Dead (2007), and dozens of remakes, spinoffs, and homages of admiration, plus video games, TV shows, fan fictions, and scary campfire stories by the thousands. George A Romero’s influence in the realm of nightmares will not soon be forgotten. The horror fan community has lost one of the greatest creative minds it has ever known.

[Featured Image by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]