Curtis Hanson, who shared an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for L.A. Confidential and also helmed such films as Eminem-starrer 8 Mile, Wonder Boys, The River Wild, In Her Shoes and HBO’s Too Big To Fail, died in his sleep Tuesday of natural causes at his Hollywood Hills home. He was 71.
Officer Tony Im of the LAPD confirmed the news to Deadline, saying police arrived at Hanson’s home at 4:50 PM and that he was pronounced dead at the scene. The filmmaker had been in poor health for a while. His partner, Rebecca Yeldham, said Wednesday that Hanson had been diagnosed with a rare terminal condition known as frontotemporal degeneration. Read her full statement about his illness below.
Hanson co-wrote (with Brian Helgeland), directed and produced L.A. Confidential (1997), an adaptation of James Ellroy’s noir novel which was up for Best Picture and also earned him a directing nom. Set in 1953 Los Angeles, the film starred Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, David Straithairn and — in brief but Oscar-winning scenes — Kim Basinger. It followed a group of corrupt LAPD officers and a deal with a Hollywood gossip rag to feed it celebrity tips.
Born on March 24, 1945, in Reno, NV, Hanson grew up in Los Angeles and began his career writing and directing indie pics in the early 1970s. By the next decade he would direct a young Tom Cruise in Losin’ It (1983) wrote the screenplays for features White Dog (1982) and Never Cry Wolf (1983). He was more focused on directing by the 1990s, helming such films as Bad Influence (1990), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and The River Wild starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon (1994).
He followed up L.A. Confidential by directing Wonder Boys (2000), starring Michael Douglas as a troubled English professor and Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes as his students. The cast also included Frances McDormand, Rip Torn and Robert Downey Jr — like Maguire, then a pre-superhero actor. Next up for Hanson was 8 Mile, starring rapper Eminem in a semi-autobiographical tale of a young white rapper from Detroit trying to launch his career.
Hanson’s next project was In Her Shoes, a 2005 dramedy about two sisters (Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette) and their relationship with their grandma (Shirley MacLaine). He followed that with the 2007 poker drama Lucky You, starring Eric Bana, Robert Duvall and Drew Barrymore, which he wrote and directed.
In 2011, Hanson took his directing talents to the small screen for Too Big to Fail, HBO’s telepic about how Washington and Wall Street flailed during the late-2000s financial crisis. The pic, which included William Hurt (at left, with Hanson) among its large ensemble, scored 11 Emmy noms, including two for Hanson as director and producer, but came away empty-handed.
Hanson began, but didn’t complete, the 2012’s Chasing Mavericks, a biopic about surfer Jay Moriarity. The director dropped out of the project due to an undisclosed illness, and Michael Apted took over helming duties.
Before starting his filmmaker career, Hanson was a photographer and editor for Cinema magazine. While there, he took shots of a young Faye Dunaway. The images led to her audition for Bonnie & Clyde, and Dunaway would go on to become one of the leading actresses in Hollywood into the 1980s.
Hanson was elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors, representing the Directors branch. He was re-elected in 2004, 2007 and 2009.
In addition to Yeldham, survivors include their son, Rio; Hanson’s mother, Beverly June; brother, John; and sister-in-law Charlotte.
Here is Yeldham’s full statement regarding the disease that Hanson battled for years:
Yesterday evening we lost a much beloved filmmaker, writer, son, father, partner and friend, Curtis Hanson. Those who knew him recognized his extraordinary kindness and character. Those who loved movies revered him and all he gave to cinema. While it is the meaning of his life and body of work that matter most, I know he would want me to bring attention to the illness that ultimately precipitated his death of natural causes in the hope that this awareness might help others.
Curtis had been battling for some time a rare terminal condition known as Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD). It is a distinctly different diagnosis than Alzheimer’s, with its own set of symptoms and challenges. A clinical feature of the disease is anosognosia, a lack of awareness about the condition itself. We will be forever thankful that Curtis never suffered in the knowledge of his illness or prognosis. He died peacefully in his sleep.
I suspect much will be written in the coming days about Curtis’ remarkable career and life’s work. As a family we are sustained by the fact that his films are an important part of cinematic history, as are his contributions to the UCLA Film and Television Archive — gifts that will be enjoyed for generations. Our loss is profound and personal. On behalf of his surviving family – his mother, Beverly June, his brother John and sister-in-law Charlotte, and our son, Rio, I thank you for your compassion. Please consider learning more about FTD and making a donation in Curtis’ name at: theaftd.org.