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Superheroes like you and me

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He must have had a very special gift for friendship. When Richard Donner was honored with a small gala by the Oscar Academy in 2017, he said that the filmmaker Nora Ephron once wanted to know how he actually does it: “After every film you make, you have a new friend.” He added that the film industry itself has always been a friend to him, as good as it has meant to him.

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In fact, the director, who was born in the Bronx in 1930 and grew up in New York, got his job through a token of friendship. Donner was happy to tell this story, too, and often. During a TV shoot, Hollywood director Martin Ritt told the 21-year-old supporting actor that he couldn’t follow instructions and made him his assistant director without further ado.

It was still hard work, patience, craft above all: Before Richard Donner achieved success with the horror classic “The Omen” and in 1978 with “Superman”, the first blockbuster about a comic hero, he staged hundreds of TV shows and series hits including episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Streets of San Francisco”.

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The theme of friendship appears again and again in his work. The deeply human in all the men with the supernatural powers, the swordsmen, the devils must have been important to him: the child in the man, the superhero in the childlike mind. And when the shy reporter Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) in a Superman outfit saves his secretly adored Lois Lane in free fall and delivers it back to the skyscraper unscathed with the helicopter, he answers the question about his identity only succinctly: “A friend”. To later invite you to romantic flights around the Statue of Liberty.


When the scenes with Superman daddy Marlon Brando were supposed to be removed in the sequel in order to save the negotiated profit sharing, Donner got out in protest.

And what, please, is his blockbuster series “Leathal Weapon” (1987-1998) about the unequal police duo Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh other than a story about pretty best friends? Danny Glover as the aging cop, Mel Gibson as his very young, Vietnamese-traumatized colleague – the action comedy might not have made it into four episodes if Donner hadn’t changed the ending of episode 1. Actually, the two should be parting.


Since “Lethal Weapon” at the latest, Donner has been one of Hollywood’s top action directors. But he liked and knew other genres as well. Steven Spielberg produced his youth treasure hunt film “The Goonies”; Jodie Foster and James Garner were in the western comedy “Maverick”. Donner was in the director’s chair for the last time in the 2006 thriller “16 Blocks” with Bruce Willis (again an aging cop).

“It was very sick, it was time to go for him,” said his wife, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, with whom he had a joint production company. Richard Donner died on Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 91.

Hollywood mourns: Mel Gibson praised his generosity, Steven Spielberg wrote that working with him was like being with “your favorite coach, the brightest professor, the wildest motivator, the most lovable friend, the most loyal ally” – and of course “With the greatest of all Goonies. He was all kid. All heart. All the time.”

And everyone remembers his joke, his entertainer qualities, his sometimes booming, sometimes hoarse laugh. It must have been contagious. (with dpa)

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