The American filmmaker Richard Donner, who co-designed the modern superhero blockbuster with Superman in 1978 and mastered the comedy comedy with the Lethal Weapon franchise, has died. He was 91.

Donner died in Los Angeles on Monday, his family said through a spokesman.

Donner gained fame with his first feature film, The Omen, from 1976. What followed was an unprecedented offer: $ 1 million to direct Superman in 1978. Donner channeled his love for the character into the film, repeatedly facing producers for the need for special effects to convince audiences that a superhero can really fly. In the title role, Donner cast Christopher Reeve, who was linked to Superman for the rest of his life.

In the 21st century, the genre dominated the box office in the US and flourished overseas. The heads of Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment – producers of most of today’s superhero diet – both worked for Donner when they first started out in Hollywood. Donner’s own career spanned five decades.

Steven Spielberg produced The Goonies, a 1985 film about a group of outsiders looking for pirate treasure. Donner directed.

In a statement, he called Donner “gifted in so many genres. Being in his circle was like hanging out with your favorite coach, brightest professor, wildest motivator, lovable friend, most loyal ally and, of course, the greatest Goonie of all, ”he wrote in a statement.

“He was quite a child. All heart. The whole time. I can’t believe he’s gone, but his hoarse, heartfelt laugh will stay with me forever. “

Director Kevin Smith tweeted: “Richard Donner made the devil the child in The Omen, invented the modern comic film with Superman and reinvented the buddy-cop film with Lethal Weapon. I met him last year on a project. Guy was a born storyteller. Thanks for all the flicks, Dick! “

Donner also incorporated his political convictions into his films by inserting posters “Free South Africa” ​​in scenes in many of his works during apartheid and a poster “Stamp Out the NRA” (National Rifle Association) in a police station in Lethal. inserted weapon.

“I’ll comment if you see it, see it, if not, don’t,” Donner said in a 2006 interview with the Television Academy.

Director and producer Richard Donner met his wife and producer Lauren Shuler Donner while they were working on the film Ladyhawke together [File: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Turner]Donner followed Superman with an indie, Inside Moves, in 1980 and The Toy with Richard Pryor in 1982. In 1985 he directed the children’s adventure classic The Goonies and Ladyhawke, which was to introduce him to his future wife, Lauren Shuler Donner.

The two married the following year. In 1993 they founded The Thunders Company, which has produced hits like Deadpool, The Wolverine, and the X-Men franchise. Adjusted for inflation, his films grossed more than $ 1 billion in box office receipts.

In 1987, Donner cast Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as the mismatched police couple in the buddy-cop action film Lethal Weapon. The film was a huge hit, spawning several sequels and a TV show.

He undermined his own talent and size with a great deal of humility, calling himself “just a traffic cop”. He left his ego at the door and asked others to do the same. He was magnanimous in heart and soul, which he generously gave to all who knew him. 2/3

– Mel Gibson (@MelGibsonFilms) July 5, 2021

“He was a masterful storyteller,” Gibson said in 2017. “He was humble. He had this sign above that door that said, “Leave your ego by the door,” and there was no ego around him. It was really difficult for me to enter the room. “

Donner followed with the Bill Murray hit Scrooged in 1988 and Lethal Weapon 2 the next year.

His other credits include Maverick, Conspiracy Theory, and Radio Flyer.

Born Richard Donald Schwartzberg on April 24, 1930 in New York City, Donner changed his name when he set out to become an actor.

“Without the great director Marty Ritt, I would have been an unemployed actor now,” said Donner.

He remembered Ritt telling him, “Your problem is that you can’t direct,” and suggested directing instead.

“And because I hung out with him a bit, he said, ‘You’re my assistant on the next show,’ and that changed my life,” said Donner. “I never went back to acting.”

He began working on television, directing episodes of Gilligan’s Island, Perry Mason, and The Twilight Zone, including a 1963 episode called Nightmare at 2,000 Feet starring William Shatner.

I am sorry to hear of his death. He was a wonderful director. I don’t really have a lot of memories from the shoot. It was messy; It was supposed to be a 4 day shoot and they cut it in half. They kept us there all night on the 2nd day to end it. We were all sleep deprived

– William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) July 6, 2021

Away from the camera, Donner was known for his extraordinary kindness and generosity. He covered tuition for one Goonies star (Jeff Cohen, now an entertainment attorney) and paid life-saving rehabilitation for another (actor Corey Feldman).

Donner told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview that the young cast was helping him through production.

“I never had children of my own and they became like my family,” he said.

Along with his wife, Donner was also a passionate animal rights activist, rescuing dozens of dogs over the years and fighting against killer whale captivity.

Although some of Donner’s films generated Oscar nominations, he was never nominated. But he got his chance to thank the academy – and its many friends and colleagues.

“This industry is my friend and for me the greatest gift in the world,” said Donner. “You are all my Oscar.”