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Jonathan Demme, ‘Silence of the Lambs’ director, dies at 73

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ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Director Jonathan Demme, from left, actress Jodie Foster and actor Anthony Hopkins hold their awards for their work on “Silence of the Lambs” at the 1992 Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Demme died Wednesday due to complications from esophageal cancer in New York. He was 73.

NEW YORK — Jonathan Demme, the eclectic, ever-enthusiastic filmmaker behind the Oscar winners “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” and the director of one of the most seminal concert films ever made, the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense,” has died. He was 73.

Demme’s publicist, Annalee Paulo, said Demme died Wednesday morning in his New York apartment, surrounded by his wife, Joanna, and three children. Demme died from complications from esophageal cancer, she said.

Demme broke into moviemaking under the B-movie master Roger Corman in the early 1970s.

Yet his most famous films were a pair of Oscar-winners “The Silence of the Lambs,” the 1991 thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as an FBI analyst, earned him a directing Oscar, as well as best picture. He followed that up with “Philadelphia” (1993), with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, the first major Hollywood film to confront the AIDS crisis. It remains a landmark film in the portrayal of gay life and injustice, subjects Hollywood has previously largely turned a blind eye toward.

Hopkins, Foster and Hanks all earned Academy Awards for their performances from those films. Demme’s sensitive, alert eye help produce countless other acclaimed performance, too, from Melanie Griffith (“Something Wild”) to Anne Hathaway (“Rachel Getting Married”).

“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 said in a statement. “Jonathan was as quirky as his comedies and as deep as his dramas. He was pure energy, the unstoppable cheerleader for anyone creative. Just as passionate about music as he was about art, he was and will always be a champion of the soul.”

Hanks called him “the grandest of men.”

Demme last year released his latest concert film, “Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids,” on Netflix. Timberlake, a passionate fan of 1984’s “Stop Making Sense,” sought out Demme to direct it.

“I’ve come to believe, and I kind of felt this when we did ‘Stop Making Sense,’ that shooting live music is kind of like the purest form of filmmaking,” Demme told The Associated Press. “There’s no script to worry about. It’s not a documentary, so you don’t have to wonder where this story is going and what we can use. It’s just: Here come the musicians. Here come the dancers. The curtain goes up. They have at it and we get to respond in the best way possible to what they’re doing up there.”

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