Jonathan Demme, celebrated director and creator of magnificent suspense films such as The Silence of the Lambs has died at the age of 73. The legacy that Demme (pronounced DEM-ee) leaves behind showcases not only adrenaline boosting thrillers such as The Silence of the Lambs but also a signature style centering on tension and pathos through a diverse body of work spanning nearly 50 years.
Demme was not a suspense genre director in the begninning and never really became one. However, he did deliver some lasting body of work in the thriller and suspense which provided the blueprint for many successful directors after him. He had breakthroughs in 1984’s World War II-era drama-comedy Swing Shift, and 1988’s crime comedy Married to the Mob during 1980s.
However, he stepped away from comedy space and went behind the camera for a project in The Silence of the Lambs that, at the time, seemed puzzling, since it was a sequel of sorts to Michael Mann’s 1986 crime thriller Manhunter, recasting Brian Cox’s imprisoned cannibal killer “Dr. Hannibal Lecktor” with the great Anthony Hopkins as a reworked version whose name became spelled as “Lecter.”
The film, centering on a bizarre dynamic in which Hopkins’s imprisoned Lecter helps Jodie Foster’s Quantico-fresh F.B.I. agent Clarice Starling catch a serial killer, became a terrifying instant classic, rendering the original Manhunter a trivia question and redefining an entire genre of crime thrillers that walk the line of the horror genre, eventually yielding Demme a Best Director Oscar win in 1992.
Demme’s post-Hannibal Lektor career didn’t slow down, with other high-profile projects such as 1993’s controversial Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington AIDS drama Philadelphia, the 1998 drama Beloved, the 2002 thriller The Truth About Charlie, a reunion with Washington for the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate and the 2008 Anne Hathaway-starring romantic drama Rachel is Getting Married. While Demme’s workload had always delved into television and music videos, he shifted in his later years to episodes of television shows such as A Gifted Man, Enlightened and The Killing while still fielding the occasional film, with his last two features being the 2013 drama A Master Builder and, lastly, the 2015 rock-and-roll themed Meryl Streep-starring dramedy Ricki and the Flash.
On April 26, 2017, Demme died at the age of 73 in Manhattan due to complications from esophageal cancer and heart disease. Demme’s cancer problems were known as he had previously disclosed them in 2015.
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