Richard Donner, Director of ‘Superman’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ Films, Dies at 91

Richard Donner, the powerful, single-minded however playful movie director who made Christopher Reeve’s Superman fly, Mel Gibson’s deranged detective deadly and the younger stars of “The Goonies” pirate-adorable, died on Monday. He was 91.

His manufacturing firm and his spouse and producing associate, Lauren Shuler Donner, confirmed the demise with Hollywood commerce publications. They didn’t say the place he died or give the trigger.

Mr. Donner was in his late 40s when he made his first blockbuster, “Superman,” reviving a comic-book hero who hadn’t been seen onscreen because the 1950s tv sequence “Adventures of Superman.” The movie opened in 1978, introducing Mr. Reeve, a relative unknown at the time, because the Man of Steel and some state-of-the-art particular results.

“If the audience didn’t believe he was flying, I didn’t have a movie,” Mr. Donner instructed Variety in 1997.

That megahit was adopted by “Inside Moves” (1980), a drama a couple of man crippled in a failed suicide try (Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times that Mr. Donner had directed it “with a surprising gentleness”); “The Toy” (1982), with Richard Pryor, whose character finds himself employed to be the plaything of a spoiled wealthy youngster; “The Goonies” (1987), about misfit youngsters on a treasure hunt; the primary of 4 “Lethal Weapon” motion pictures (additionally 1987), starring Mr. Gibson and Danny Glover; and “Scrooged” (1988), an irreverent comedian tackle Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” starring Bill Murray.

Mr. Donner attributed the shock success of “Lethal Weapon” to his clear depiction of violence.

“I like to turn my head away in suspense, not in disgust,” he stated in a 1987 interview with The Times. “Sure, there were a lot of deaths, but they died like they died in westerns. They were shot with bullets; they weren’t dismembered.”

He even admitted to having stolen some combat strikes from a western: “Red River” (1948), which starred John Wayne.

Mr. Donner all the time stated he had been employed for “Goonies” as a result of Steven Spielberg, who produced the film, had instructed him, “You’re a bigger kid than I am.” But working with precise youngsters (together with Sean Astin at 14 and Josh Brolin, barely 17) was a blended blessing.

“The annoying thing was the lack of discipline,” Mr. Donner instructed Yahoo Entertainment in 2015. “And that was also what was great, because it meant that they weren’t professionals. What came out of them was instinct.”

In a press release on Monday, Mr. Spielberg stated: “Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres. Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favorite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and — of course — the greatest Goonie of all. He was all kid. All heart. All the time.”

A scene from “The Goonies.” Mr. Donner stated he had been employed for “Goonies” as a result of Steven Spielberg had instructed him, “You’re a bigger kid than I am.” Credit…Warner Bros.

Richard Donald Schwartzberg was born on April 24, 1930, within the Bronx, the youthful of two youngsters of Fred and Hattie (Horowitz) Schwartzberg. His father was a Russian Jewish immigrant who labored in his father’s furnishings enterprise; his mom, a daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, labored as a secretary earlier than having youngsters.

Richard grew to become fascinated by movie when he and his sister would go to their grandfather’s movie show in Brooklyn. But he had no particular profession ambitions, Mr. Donner stated in a 2006 Archive of American Television video interview. He grew up within the Bronx and in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and joined the Navy in his teenagers.

His first actual attraction to indicate enterprise got here with a summer time job parking automobiles and doing errands at a summer time theater. Because his father wished him to review enterprise, he enrolled in night time faculty at New York University however dropped out after two years.

He had some luck touchdown appearing jobs in commercials and lastly received a tiny half on the 1950-51 anthology sequence “Somerset Maugham TV Theater.” The episode’s director, Martin Ritt (who went on to a profitable profession directing motion pictures like “Hud,” “Sounder” and “Norma Rae”), didn’t take care of the younger man’s perspective and provided a suggestion. “You can’t take direction,” he stated. “You should be a director.”

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon 2.” Mr. Donner attributed the shock success of the primary “Lethal Weapon” to his clear depiction of violence.Credit…Warner Bros, by way of Everett Collection

Mr. Donner (he took his stage identify from the notorious Donner Pass bloodbath, observing its centennial at the time, and as a result of Donner appeared like his center identify) continued to do commercials and helped discovered a industrial manufacturing firm, which he and his associate later offered to Filmways. He received his massive probability to direct prime-time sequence TV in 1960, with an episode of the western “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” starring Steve McQueen.

From the beginning he brushed elbows with stars. The golden-age-of-Hollywood star Claudette Colbert was in a single of his first assignments, a 1960 episode of “Zane Grey Theater.” One of the six “Twilight Zone” episodes he directed was “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” during which William Shatner performed a terrified airline passenger who sees a gremlin on the wing outdoors his window.

Neither of Mr. Donner’s first two tries at movie made an enormous splash, however he directed massive names: Charles Bronson in “X-15,” a 1961 drama a couple of take a look at pilot, and Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford in “Salt and Pepper,” a 1968 comedy crime thriller.

The first Richard Donner film that acquired headline consideration was “The Omen” (1976), a couple of cold-eyed little boy who’s secretly the Antichrist. Vincent Canby, unimpressed, described Mr. Donner in The Times as “a television director who has a superb way of dismissing any small detail that might give some semblance of conviction to the proceedings.” But “The Omen” grew to become the 12 months’s fifth-highest-grossing movie; quickly its director was provided “Superman,” which did even higher financially. It was overwhelmed at the field workplace in 1978 solely by “Grease.”

Mr. Donner directed Mr. Gibson in two high-profile movies within the 1990s: “Maverick” (1994), a comic book western with Jodie Foster; and “Conspiracy Theory” (1997), an motion thriller a couple of paranoid cabdriver, with Julia Roberts. In the early ’90s he produced and directed episodes of HBO’s “Tales From the Crypt.”

The final “Lethal Weapon” film was in 1998. Mr. Donner’s final movie, “16 Blocks,” was a 2006 crime drama starring Bruce Willis.

Mr. Donner in 2017, when he was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.Credit…Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He met Ms. Shuler when she employed him for the 1985 fantasy “Ladyhawke”; they married in 1986. The couple ultimately selected to not work collectively as a result of it affected their relationship, Mr. Donner stated. “I’m a 200-pound gorilla,” he defined. “She’s a 300-pound gorilla.”

But their manufacturing firm, the Donners’ Company, based in 1993, has been behind profitable hits like “Deadpool,” “The Wolverine” and the “X-Men” franchise. (Complete info on his survivors was not instantly obtainable.)

Like Alfred Hitchcock, Mr. Donner loved making silent cameo appearances in his personal initiatives; he was, amongst different issues, a riverboat card supplier in “Maverick,” a police officer in “The Goonies” and a passer-by in “Superman.”

But requested within the Archive of American Television interview how he wished to be remembered, he was unassuming. “As a good guy who lived a long life and had a good time and always had that lady behind him pushing him,” he stated. His solely boast: “I’m pretty good at meeting a schedule and a budget.”