Star Wars producer and Hollywood icon Gary Kurtz died Sunday, after a year long battle with cancer.
Kurtz was best known for producing Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. He also produced cult classics American Graffiti and The Dark Crystal.
Hollywood Reporter confirmed Monday that the filmmaker had died over the weekend in North London, U.K., aged 78.
His family said “Gary was a magnificent man, who will be hugely missed.”
“He was a Marine, a world traveler, an outdoorsman, and a kind, compassionate human being,” his family said in a statement.
“His life’s work was to share the wonder of audio visual storytelling through the art of film.”
#StarWars producer Gary Kurtz has sadly passed away. Gary Kurtz was an American film producer whose list of credits include Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Crystal and Return to Oz all #MadeAtElstree pic.twitter.com/AVUKdsE9E6— Elstree Studios (@ElstreeStudios) September 24, 2018
Kurtz began his film career in 1965, when he worked as an assistant director on the Western flick Ride in the Whirlwind with Jack Nicholson. A year later, he left the industry to serve in the military until 1969. When he returned to film-making in the early 1970s, he teamed up with a little-known director, George Lucas. In 1973 the pair made American Graffiti, which went on to gross $55 million on a $1.27 million production budget.
Kurtz and Lucas followed up the success of American Graffiti with Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, cementing the duo as one of the most celebrated producer-director teams in Hollywood. While Lucas went on to become the public face of Star Wars, according to Variety, Kurtz was largely responsible for convincing a skeptical 20th Century Fox to back the space opera.
Kutz returned to produce Star Wars:The Empire Strikes Back three years later, but parted ways with Lucas after a troubled production.
In 2010, Kurtz told the Los Angeles Times that he felt the Star Wars franchise had become too dominated by the “toy business.”
“It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films,” he said at the time.
“It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.”
Lucasfilm described Kurtz as a “man of immense talent and intelligence.”
“Kurtz will be missed greatly by Lucasfilm, and we’ll remember his many contributions to Star Wars and film,” Lucasfilm stated on the Star Wars website.
Kit Marlowe Film Co., which was working with Kurtz on an upcoming project, said that they were “deeply saddened” by his passing.
“Gary was to be the producer of our forthcoming film, Christopher Marlowe. We will miss his leadership and expertise and even more his gentle guidance and graceful nature,” they stated.
“He was more than a colleague; he was also a friend,” they said.