Today is a very sad in the world of cinema, as we here at Wicked Horror, regret to announce the unfortunate passing of legendry director Richard Donner. Donner was the director of major Hollywood blockbusters such as Lethal Weapon and The Goonies. Horror fans will know Donner very well, as he had his hands in a lot of beloved horror projects. And oh yeah….he directed THE OMEN!
Richard Donner (Richard Donald Schwartzberg) was born on April 2, 1930 in the Bronx, New York. Early on in his life, Donner was actually interested in developing a career as an actor, before his shift to directing. He graduated from NYU where he majored in business and theater.
In 1951 Donner was able to land a tiny part in the television series Somerset Maugham TV Theatre. He was to be in the episode “Of Human Bondage” which was directed by acclaimed director Martin Ritt. Apparently, Donner and Ritt had run into some issues on the set with Donner only having a few lines.
According to Donner, Ritt told him “Your problem is that you can’t take direction, you ought to be a director!” With that, Ritt made Donner his assistant on the show. “Marty told me I’d never make it as an actor because I couldn’t take direction. But, he thought I could give it and offered me a job as his assistant.” Donner told Variety. “Martin Ritt changed my life. He put me on the road that I’m on now, and he made my life extremely complete.” Donner said.
In the 1950’s Donner began working for Desilu Productions, which was a production company founded by husband-and-wife team Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, who both starred in the hit show I Love Lucy. While Donner was working at Desilu, he began his directing career by directing several commercials.
Donner switched from commercials to tv series episodes shortly after. He directed several episodes of popular tv series such as The Twilight Zone, The Rifleman and Gilligan’s Island. In 1961, Donner directed his first film X-15, starring Charles Bronson and Mary Tyler Moore. X-15 told the story of the research rocket program and the test pilots who fly them.
Donner followed up with his next film Salt and Pepper starring Sammy Davis Jr. in 1968. Donner found success, but his huge breakthrough would come shortly with the release of the seminal horror classic, The Omen in 1976.
The Omen tells the story of Damien Thorn who is born of a jackal and adopted by U.S. Diplomat Robert Thorn. Donner spun a tale of demonic mystery as viewers try to figure out if Damien is in fact the anti-Christ. There are several legends that exist around the film of it possibly be haunted and/or cursed due to several strange and tragic events occurring. Donner himself has been quoted as saying “With The Omen, I really felt I wasn’t in control. It was panic”.
From this point onward Donner’s career skyrocketed to huge heights. He directed the classic and beloved 1978 film Superman, with Christopher Reeves. Donner also helmed the cherished kids and fan favorite film, The Goonies in 1985.
Richard Donner’s filmography reads like a Who’s Who’s of Hollywood. Lethal Weapon, Maverick and the hilarious Richard Pryor film The Toy, are just a small smattering of some of Donner’s amazing work. Donner not only brought as amazing and classic films as a director, he also brought us films as an Executive Producer.
If he was not behind the camera, Richard Donner was working on some of the biggest projects in Hollywood, alongside some of the biggest names it had to offer. Donner followed up with The Omen series by, Executive Producing Omen III: The Final Conflict in 1981. Donner also Executive Produced the 1987 cult classic The Lost Boys.
It is a sad day in Tinseltown today as we have lost a visionary and groundbreaking director and producer. Richard Donner passed away at the age of 91 on July, 5 2021, which was announced by his wife and management company. His cause of death has yet to be released to the public.
This one hits a little harder personally. Richard Donner was instrumental in shaping my love for all things horror way back when I was a child. One of the first horror films I remember watching was The Omen. I remember falling in love with the film and being terrified at the same time. The next day in elementary school, I was on the sly checking other kid’s head’s for the mark of the beast 😀
We have lost not just another icon in the horror community, but an icon in the general cinephile and Hollywood world as well. We are reminded of the legacy Richard Donner leaves behind. This year’s Christmastime tradition of watching Scrooged is going to be a bittersweet one. Bitter in the fact that we have lost an amazing man. Sweet in the fact that he has left behind this amazing holiday classic for us to enjoy, and the happiness it brings us during repeated viewings.
Our hearts go out the family and loved ones of Richard Donner in this extremely difficult time. But if I could tell Richard Donner one thing it would be, thank you. Thank you for the laughs, the scares and the tears. You will always live on through your brilliant work. Godspeed good sir.