Richard Donner, Director, 'Superman', 'The Goonies,' and 'Lethal Weapon', Dies at 91

Richard Donner, director-producer, was known best for his work on "Lethal Weapon", "The Goonies", and "Superman." He died Monday. He was 91.

Richard Donner, Director, 'Superman', 'The Goonies,' and 'Lethal Weapon', Dies at 91

Variety received confirmation from Donner's production company that Donner had died. However, the cause of death was not revealed.

Although it wasn't his first major screen effort, "The Omen" was his biggest feature film. It starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. After that, he was able to bring his talents to the first "Superman" film. He also produced "Free Willy," and "The Lost Boys" with Lauren Shuler Donner. But the highlight of his career was the "Lethal Weapon" series starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and Danny Glover. This series helped him reach the top of the box office directors who have earned more than a half a billion dollars.

Born Richard Donald Schwartzberg, Donner was raised in the Bronx. He attended Parker Junior College, NYU and later NYU where he studied theater and business. Donner began his career as an actor and soon moved to television directing. He worked on series such as "Wanted: Dead or Alive," the Twilight Zone, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." as well as "The Fugitive".

He studied acting under Dort Clark and David Alexander. In the early 1950s, he worked frequently off-Broadway. Donner listened to the director while he was appearing in Martin Ritt’s television production of "Of Human Bondage". He once told Donner that he had warned him that he wouldn't let me act as an actor, but he believed he could and offered to help me as his assistant.

Donner became close friends with George Blake as a driver, and he eventually moved up to the directorship of documentaries, industrial films, and commercials. Donner moved to Los Angeles after Blake's passing. He began as his driver and then progressed to directing documentaries, industrial films, and commercials.

Donner worked as an animator for Hanna-Barbera. He directed several episodes of Danger Island, part of the children's series "The Banana Splits," in which his hand-held camerawork was prominent.

He directed his first film in 1961, "X-15", starring Charles Bronson. He directed a few British films, including "Salt and Pepper" and the "Twinky", which starred Charles Bronson in the 1960s. He also directed "X-15," a low-budget film that he made in 1961.

Donner made full use of the lessons he learned from "The Twilight Zone" and broke into the feature film industry with "The Omen," an 1976 hit thriller. This led to a lucrative assignment that saw him bring "Superman” to the bigscreen in 1978. In a eventually litigious dispute, he left the sequel to the film's success in a dispute with Alexander and Ilya Salakind, the producers of the films. Richard Lester took over the film. However, Donner's work is still present in the final film, although it has been credited. "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut", a 2006 film, was released on DVD on the same day Bryan Singer's reboot of "Superman Returns" launched on home video.

Donner directed 1980's "Inside Moves", a smaller, more personal film that he had adapted from the script of Barry Levinson. Despite respectful notices, it failed to do well at the box-office. In 1982, Richard Pryor's comedy "The Toy", followed it.

Donner added producing credits to his resume, many of them in collaboration with Lauren Shuler Donner. These films included "Omen III" and later "The Lost Boys," and "Delirious," as also "Demon Knight" (1995), and "Bordello Of Blood," which were all spawned out of the HBO series "Tales From the Crypt," which he produced from 1989 to 1991. He also produced the "Free Willy" trilogy, which he made for children in the 1990s.

Donner was at his best with 1982's period romance "Ladyhawke," then "The Goonies" (from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin), and finally "Lethal Weapon", the action franchise that first appeared in 1987. He also starred in three sequels, all of which were successful. Gibson was also part of "Maverick" (and "Conspiracy Theory")

In the 1990s, he was a reliable mainstream director-producer through films like "Scrooged," starring Bill Murray and "Assassins," starring Sylvester Stallone. He was also the executive producer of Oliver Stone's 1999 NFL drama, "Any Given Sunday."

Donner was also the director and producer of the time-travel story "Timeline" in 2003 and the Bruce Willis actioner in 2006 "16 Blocks". He was also the exec producer for Singer's 2000 film "X-Men," which earned $297 million worldwide and its 2009 prequel, called "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," that made $379 million.

Shuler Donner, his wife of 26 years, is his survivor.

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