Jonathan Demme, Legendary Director, Has Died at 73

Jonathan Demme
Jonathan Demme poses for photographers during a photocall at the Venice Film Festival September 3, 2008. Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Jonathan Demme, the Academy Award-winning director whose eclectic filmography includes The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, has died at 73.

The cause of death was esophageal cancer, according to a report in IndieWire, which cites a person "close to the family." The news was later confirmed by Demme's publicist, who said that he died early Wednesday morning in his Manhattan apartment.

Demme is probably best recognized for directing the chilling 1991 horror-thriller The Silence of the Lambs, which features Anthony Hopkins as a cannibalistic serial killer and won Demme an Academy Award for best director. He also directed the Academy Award-winning drama Philadelphia, about a lawyer battling AIDS who takes on his law firm for discrimination; Rachel Getting Married, about a family wedding drama; and Something Wild, the 1986 cult comedy starring Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels.

Demme's documentary work, meanwhile, made him a beloved ally of the music community. His remarkable rendering of a 1984 Talking Heads show, Stop Making Sense, is among the best concert films ever made. Demme later made a trilogy of documentary fims chronicling the career and life of Neil Young: Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006), Neil Young Trunk Show (2009) and Neil Young Journeys (2011). Other Demme documentaries include Man from Plains, about former president Jimmy Carter, and The Agronomist.

Related: The Newsweek review of Silence of the Lambs

Demme's genre versatility—from horror to rockumentary and back again—and knack for coaxing out great, revealing performances made him a rare talent in cinema. In 2008, Newsweek film critic David Ansen praised the "quirky, unpredictable humanity" of the director's work and his "deliberately unstable mixture of moods and genres."

A number of Hollywood collaborators and admirers mourned the loss of Demme on Twitter:

Tom Hanks also issued a statement on Demme's death, saying: "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. He was the grandest of men."

Demme's recent work included Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, a concert film, and Ricki and the Flash, a 2015 comedy-drama.

Demme is survived by his wife, Joanne, and by his three children: Ramona, Brooklyn and Jos.