Filmmaker John Hughes dies at 59

His teenage characters spoke to a generation

John Hughes, the Chicago-based filmmaker who redefined the teen movie in the '80s with his sympathetic comedies about the joys and heartbreak of high school life, died Thursday of a heart attack in New York. He was 59.

Hughes suffered the heart attack while taking a morning walk while visiting family members in Manhattan, his representatives said.

With films like "Sixteen Candles" (1984), "The Breakfast Club" (1985) and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), all of which he wrote and directed, Hughes treated teens with respect. In contrast to raunchier teen movies like "Porky's," Hughes reached beyond the conventional stereotypes to create idiosyncratic characters that spoke to a generation. In the process, he nurtured the careers of such young actors as Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy.

"He made a better connection with young people than anyone in Hollywood had ever made before or since," Ben Stein, who played the monotone economics teacher in "Bueller," said of Hughes. "He was to them what Shakespeare was to the Elizabethan Age."

Hughes enjoyed his biggest boxoffice success with 1990's "Home Alone," which he wrote and produced. Directed by Chris Columbus and starring Macaulay Culkin as a young boy who must ward off a pair of bumbling burglars when his parents inadvertently leave him behind, the family-friendly comedy grossed $285.8 million domestically for 20th Century Fox and spawned two film sequels.

But Hughes found his longest-running onscreen collaborator in John Candy, the late comic performer who appeared in one of the first films Hughes wrote, 1983's "Vacation." The two reteamed in 1987's "Planes, Trains & Automobiles," in which Candy co-starred with Steve Martin as two mismatched holiday travelers. He went on to star in such Hughes movies as "The Great Outdoors" (1988), "Uncle Buck" (1989), "Career Opportunities" (1991) and "Only the Lonely" (1991).

John Wilden Hughes Jr. was born Feb. 18, 1950, in Lansing, Mich. His family moved to Chicago when he was in his early teens, and he attended Glenbrook (Ill.) North High School before moving on to Arizona State University, where he dropped out his junior year.

Working as an advertising copywriter, he began turning out short stories, magazine articles and jokes for stand-up comedians like Rodney Dangerfield. He eventually earned himself a spot as an editor at the National Lampoon.

In the wake of the success of 1978's "Animal House," spun off from a story in the Lampoon, Hollywood turned to the humor magazine and its writers for more film fodder.

Hughes' first produced screenplay became 1982's "Class Reunion," about a 10-year reunion at Lizzie Borden High. He went on to write 1983 films "Mr. Mom," starring Michael Keaton, and "Vacation," based on his story "Vacation '58," in which Chevy Chase stars as the head of the bumbling Griswold clan on a cross-country drive to the Walley World theme park.


Photo: Newscom
 
Hughes made his directorial debut the following year with Universal's "Sixteen Candles," starring Ringwald as a resilient teen whose family forgets her 16th birthday. Applauding Hughes for avoiding typical teen movie cliches, critic Roger Ebert wrote, "This is a fresh and cheerful movie with a goofy sense of humor and a good ear for how teenagers talk. It doesn't hate its characters or condescend to them, the way a lot of teenage movies do; instead, it goes for human comedy and finds it in the everyday lives of the kids in its story."

Hughes followed up with "Breakfast Club," in which a group of high school misfits discover common ground while serving detention, and "Weird Science," in which two high school nerds create the women of their dreams.

Although embraced by fans, Hughes remained something of an outsider to the film industry, which sometimes regarded him as difficult and demanding and didn't shower him with awards. One of his few honors was a Producer of the Year award he picked up at ShoWest in 1991. While he worked within the studio system, he avoided Hollywood and raised his family in the Chicago area, where he also set and shot many of his films.

Chicago was a virtual character in Hughes' next feature, Paramount's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," in which he cast Matthew Broderick as a high school senior who skips school with two pals for a fateful day of adventure.

Reacting to the news of Hughes' death, Broderick said, "I am truly shocked and saddened by the news about my old friend John Hughes. He was a wonderful, very talented guy, and my heart goes out to his family."



Under a multipic pact at Paramount, Hughes began producing films under his own banner, Hughes Entertainment. As a producer, he oversaw a growing roster of films, including "Some Kind of Wonderful" (1987), "The Great Outdoors" (1988) and the sequel "Christmas Vacation" (1989).

As a writer and producer, he scored his biggest hit with "Home Alone," which burst on the scene in November 1990, creating a new child star in the 10-year-old Culkin, whose pose -- with his two hands slapping his cheeks as he lets go with a wide-mouthed scream -- became instantly recognizable.

"The world has lost not only a quintessential filmmaker whose influence will be felt for generations, but a great and decent man," Culkin said.

But while his continued to be actively involved as a producer and writer for the next 10 years, Hughes stepped away from directing after his final feature, "Curly Sue" (1991), a sentimental tale starring James Belushi and Alisan Porter as a homeless father and daughter.

Most recently, he retreated to a farm in northern Illinois to spend time with his family. Although he occasionally contributed story lines for movies like "Maid in Manhattan" (2002) and "Drillbit Taylor" (2008), he did so under the pseudonym Edmond Dantes, the name of the protagonist in Alexander Dumas novel "The Count of Monte Cristo."

Hughes is survived by his wife of 39 years, Nancy; two sons, John and James; and four grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A John Hughes filmography follows:

As director:

Curly Sue (1991)
Uncle Buck (1989)
She's Having a Baby (1988)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Weird Science (1985)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Sixteen Candles (1984)

As writer:

Drillbit Taylor (2008)
Beethoven's 5th (2003)
Maid in Manhattan (2002)
Home Alone 4 (2002)
Beethoven's 4th (2001)
Just Visiting (2001)
Beethoven's 3rd (2000)
American Adventure (2000)
Reach the Rock (1998)
Home Alone 3 (1997)
Flubber (1997)
101 Dalmatians (1996)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Baby's Day Out (1994)
Beethoven's 2nd (1993)
Dennis the Menace (1993)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Beethoven (1992)
Curly Sue (1991)
Dutch (1991)
Career Opportunities (1991)
Home Alone (1990)
Christmas Vacation (1989)
Uncle Buck (1989)
The Great Outdoors (1988)
She's Having a Baby (1988)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Weird Science (1985)
European Vacation (1985)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Nate and Hayes (1983)
National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
Mr. Mom (1983)

As producer:

New Port South (2001)
Reach the Rock (1998)
Home Alone 3 (1997)
Flubber (1997)
101 Dalmatians (1996)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Baby's Day Out (1994)
Dennis the Menace (1993)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Curly Sue (1991)
Dutch (1991)
Only the Lonely (1991)
Career Opportunities (1991)
Home Alone (1990)
Christmas Vacation (1989)
Uncle Buck (1989)
The Great Outdoors (1988)
She's Having a Baby (1988)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
comments powered by Disqus