NEW YORK — Jonathan Demme, the eclectic movie director whose work ranged from thrillers like “The Silence of the Lambs” to documentaries on leading musicians, died early on Wednesday of complications from esophageal cancer, his publicist said.
The 73-year-old director of ground-breaking AIDS movie “Philadelphia” died in his Manhattan apartment surrounded by his wife, Joanne Howard, and three children, publicist Annalee Paulo said in a statement.
Demme’s most recent feature film was the 2015 comedy “Ricki and the Flash,” starring Meryl Streep as an aging rocker.
Streep called him a “big hearted, big tent, compassionate man — in full embrace in his life of people in need,” in a statement on Wednesday.
New York-born Demme won a directing Oscar for the 1991 thriller “The Silence of the Lambs,” which also won Oscars for best picture and for its stars Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.
Foster said she was heartbroken at his death. “Jonathan was as quirky as his comedies and as deep as his dramas. He was pure energy, the unstoppable cheerleader for anyone creative,” she said.
Demme’s work was wide ranging, including comedy and thrillers to bold fare like 1993 film “Philadelphia,” one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to tackle the AIDS crisis. The movie brought an Oscar for Tom Hanks.
Hanks on Wednesday called him “the grandest of men.”
“Jonathan taught us how big a heart a person can have, and how it will guide how we live and what we do for a living,” Hanks said in statement.
Demme also directed concert and music documentaries for Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Chesney and Neil Young, the band Talking Heads, and more recently, “Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids.”
Steven Van Zandt, a member of Springsteen’s E Street Band, described him on Twitter as “one of the most beautiful souls on the planet.”
Barry Jenkins, who directed 2017 Oscar best picture “Moonlight,” recalled Demme’s support and warmth when that film was first doing the festival rounds. “My man Demme was the kindest, most generous. A MASSIVE soul,” Jenkins tweeted.
Demme’s other notable films include the 2008 independent drama “Rachel Getting Married,” the 2004 version of “The Manchurian Candidate,” 1988 comedy “Married to the Mob” and the 1998 adaption of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved.”
Paulo said the funeral for Demme would be private and that in lieu of flowers the family had asked that donations be made to the group Americans For Immigrant Justice in Miami. (Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Richard Chang and Bill Rigby)