I was very saddened earlier this morning when I received a phone message from a friend of mine telling me of the death of Ted Demme.
Not many details of his death are known at this time, however according to hospital spokesman Ted Braun, Demme (age 37) was rushed to the emergency room of UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica in full cardiac arrest after collapsing following a celebrity basketball game for the private Crossroads School. He was pronounced dead at 5:28 p.m. The Los Angeles Coroner’s office says the cause of death is not yet known and an autopsy will be conducted.
Often overshadowed by his uncle, director Jonathan Demme, Ted was an accomplished filmmaker in his own right and contrary to what many may believe, made his own way in the industry despite his uncleâ€™s influence. Starting out as a production assistant at MTV, Demme became producer for Yo! MTV Raps. While at MTV Demme developed a working relationship and friendship with Denis Leary, which would result in the two working together on several projects.
One of my favorite filmmakers, Demme served as director on Denis Learyâ€™s 1992 television stand-up special â€œNo Cure for Cancerâ€. His rather inauspicious feature film debut was the 1993 Dr. Dre/Ed Lover rap-vehicle â€œWhoâ€™s The Man?â€ which he followed up in 1994 by again teaming with Leary for â€œThe Refâ€. This brilliant black comedy helped to establish Demme as a unique cinematic voice. His next film, (and one of my all-time favorites) the 1996 romantic ensemble â€œBeautiful Girlsâ€ was a very intelligent and engaging film (with significant Nabokovian overtones) and has managed to gain a significant following in the years since its release. His other films included the little seen but excellent 1998 tale of an Irish gangs in Boston called â€œMonument Ave.â€ and the Martin Lawrence Eddie Murphy prison comedy â€œLifeâ€.
His extensive television worked included directing episodes of â€œHomicideâ€, the underrated Fox sitcom â€œActionâ€, as well as serving as producer on 1999’s Emmy Award winning â€œA Lesson Before Dyingâ€. Additionally, he directed several music videos for artists including The Afghan Whigs and Bruce Springsteen.
His final film was Blow, the 2000 biopic of drug trafficker George Jung which chronicled the beginnings of the Colombian / US cocaine trade. Demme was also the host of IFCâ€s â€œEscape from Hollywoodâ€, was working with IFC and Richard LaGravenese on a documentary on 70â€™s cinema and was reported to be in pre production on a film titled â€œNautica.â€
Despite being constantly compared and attached to his successful uncle, he managed to put the claims of nepotism into perspective in this 1997 interview: ^ â€œLook, you have to understand this: Imagine if I was a baseball player, and Babe Ruth was my uncle and he looks like me and I look like him. We have the same last name and I’m into baseball and I want to become a baseball player, and he’s my mentor. He’s teaching me everything. How lucky am I? I’m the luckiest guy on earth, because I’ve got the greatest baseball player who ever played in the game giving me tips on how to get by in baseball. It’s the same thing. I have a guy who’s my uncle, who’s in my blood, who’s been through the mill, and guess what– Hollywood is not only about making movies, it’s about being able to cut through all the bullshit. Cutting through all the stuff that takes away the creativity, and being able to come out on top of that. You need some pointers on that, man, it’s tough. If I just got thrown into this arena with no knowledge of how things work, it could have been really tragic. It is for about 8 out of 10 people.â€
Demme is survived by wife Amanda Scheer-Demme (who served as music supervisor for many of his films), a five year-old daughter and a two-month-old son.
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