Jonathan Demme, the Oscar-winning director of “The Silence of the Lambs” whose four-decade career spanned a staggering array of work from romantic comedy and rock music to hard-hitting documentaries, died Wednesday. He was 73.
Demme passed away in New York surrounded by his family after a battle with cancer, his publicist announced. He will be laid to rest in a private funeral.
He remains best known for the smash-hit 1991 horror-thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as serial killer Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling. The movie was box office gold and a dazzling critical success.
It swept the 1992 Academy Awards, winning five Oscars including best picture, best actor for Hopkins and best actress for Foster.
“I am heart-broken to lose a friend, a mentor, a guy so singular and dynamic you’d have to design a hurricane to contain him,” Foster wrote in a statement.
Hopkins said he was shocked. “He was one of the best, and a really nice guy as well who had such a great spirit. Every day being with him was a high five.” The director’s success with “Silence of the Lambs” gave Demme the commercial springboard to direct “Philadelphia” in 1993, a ground-breaking Hollywood blockbuster that won Tom Hanks his first Academy Award for playing a gay lawyer fired for contracting HIV and fighting for justice.
Critics say the movie changed the way Hollywood portrayed the AIDS crisis and revolutionized mainstream film’s portrayal of gay and lesbian characters.