Director Curtis Hanson has died at age 71. The Academy Award winning director passed away in his Los Angeles home due to natural causes and dementia.
LAPD confirmed the director’s death in a short statement. Hanson’s manager, Julia Mann, revealed his dementia diagnosis and private battle with its symptoms.
In the history of film, Curtis Hanson made significant footprints that filmmakers continue to emulate in their own work. The high school dropout started in the industry as a photographer for Cinema Magazine. While there, Hanson’s distinct influence began shaping the decisions of top filmmakers. His photos of a young Faye Dunaway would lead to an audition for the role of Bonnie in the iconic 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. Of course, the actress would get the part and catapult herself into icon status.
From there, he tried his hand at screenwriting. Hanson’s first screenplay to make it to the big screen was The Dunwich Horror. The film would cement the future director’s place in Roger Corman’s extensive circle of entertainment prodigies, many of whom would go on to make their mark in the industry.
The biggest success for Curtis Hanson wouldn’t come until the 1990s. His thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle would become one of 1992’s highest grossing films. Under his direction, Rebecca De Mornay gave an outstanding performance as diabolical nanny Peyton Flanders. His follow up to the film, The River Wild, offered him the chance to work with acclaimed actress Meryl Streep. An incident during filming lead to a brief period of tension between the actress and the director that dissipated shortly after it started. Streep later praises the director for his dedication to the project.
1997 would herald the biggest moments in his career. Hanson, a long time fan of author James Ellroy, was looking for his next project. He eventually settled on adapting Ellroy’s 1990 novel L.A. Confidential with writer Brian Helgeland.
When it came time to film the movie, the director helped to guide Dante Spinotti’s cinematography by placing an emphasis on current techniques. The approach paid off and the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards. It would give Hanson his only Oscar. Ironically, the award came in the Best Adapted Screenplay category instead of the Best Director category.
He translated the honor into directing opportunities on The Wonder Boys and 8 Mile. His work on 8 Mile helped rapper Eminem reach a new fan base and win accolades for his performance as man trying to escape a seemingly hopeless life. For the role of his mother, Hanson revisited a familiar face and cast Kim Basinger. Her performance won a round of accolades and cemented the idea that her work in L.A. Confidential was not a one-time thing. This film also gave Eminem his only Oscar for Best Original Song.
Curtis Hanson last directorial effort was the TV movie Too Big to Fail. This expose of the financial collapse and subsequent government intervention featured some of Hollywood’s most well known actors. It received numerous accolades and was nominated for Emmys as well as Golden Globes for acting as well as directing.
In 2012, Hanson would leave his last film Chasing Mavericks due to medical issues. Michael Apted joined the project to complete the final days of filming and would receive an additional director’s credit for this work. The film failed to become a hit at the box office and was quickly forgotten among critics.
During his last years, the director was not seen out as much as he once was. Friends as well as colleagues were not aware of the extent of his condition. As always, Curtis Hanson was consistently looking out for those around him. That dedication to the feelings and concerns of others may be the biggest legacy of this Hollywood legend.