LOS ANGELES — Scott Kalvert, a director who made music videos for performers such as Will Smith and Cyndi Lauper and directed a teenage Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1995 film “The Basketball Diaries,” died Wednesday at his Woodland Hills home in the San Fernando Valley. He was 49.
His death is being investigated as a suicide, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. No other details were given.
Kalvert began directing music videos in the late 1980s, scoring a massive hit with his first major assignment, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” based on the Grammy-winning song by hip-hop artists DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Will Smith.
The zany, cartoonish video, featuring Smith as a teenager being hassled by his mother, won an MTV Award in 1989 and has been credited with helping give hip-hop music mainstream appeal.
“The video had almost a Marx Brothers feel,” Ann Carli, then an executive at Jive Records, said in the book “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution” by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks. “It was a tipping point in hip-hop.”
Kalvert went on to direct other music videos for the duo, including “Girls of the World” and “I Think I Could Beat Mike Tyson.” He also directed videos for Mark Wahlberg, who led the hip-hop group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch before turning full time to acting, as well as for other popular artists, including Lauper, B.G., Bobby Brown and Snoop Doggy Dogg.
After a string of successful videos, Kalvert began pursuing opportunities to break into film. He had known for years that he wanted to make a movie from one of his favorite books, “The Basketball Diaries.” The best-selling 1978 memoir by poet and punk rocker Jim Carroll was a collection of wry, graphic tales about a rocky adolescence as a Catholic high school basketball star and heroin addict.
Kalvert was about 14 when he read it “and it really affected me,” he told The Miami Herald in 1995. “It was a very powerful book written from a kid’s point of view, and it introduced me to a darker side.”
The film rights had been in play for years with a number of prominent directors and actors interested in the property, but none had succeeded in turning the plotless memoir into a workable script.
Using a screenplay by Bryan Goluboff, Kalvert made the film with DiCaprio as Carroll, Lorraine Bracco as Carroll’s mother, and Wahlberg as Carroll’s brutish buddy Mickey, casting them early in their rise to stardom.
“He had an incredible eye for talent,” Liz Heller, a producer on the project, said Friday. “So many in ‘Basketball Diaries’ have gone on to have amazing careers.”
Carroll, who had a small role in the film, praised it as a faithful reflection of his book. Reviewers particularly admired DiCaprio’s performance but were sharply critical of the movie’s overall tone.
The New York Times called it “self-consciously bleak,” while the Los Angeles Times panned it as “a reverential wallow in the gutter of self-absorption.” The Washington Post, however, praised Kalvert for “a beautiful job of creating a visual equivalent for Carroll’s metaphors.”
Kalvert followed “Diaries” with only one other film, “Deuces Wild” (2002), about rival New York street gangs in the 1950s.
Born in New York City on Aug. 15, 1964, Kalvert earned a film degree from Emerson College in Boston in 1985. While at Emerson he won the first of several MTV video contests, which led to a directing job with a New York production company. He moved to Los Angeles in 1990.
In recent years, Kalvert had returned to making videos and headed his own production company, Alliance Media Group, according to his wife, Sonia.
She survives him along with two daughters, Madison and Tyler; his father, Michael Kalvert of Henderson, Nev.; and mother Nancy Permakoff and brother David, both of New York.
Distributed by MCT Information Services