John Guillermin, Director of 'The Towering Inferno,' Dies at 89

Courtesy of Photofest
John Guillermin on the set of the 1984 film "Sheena."

The British filmmaker also helmed the 1976 version of 'King Kong,' 'The Blue Max' and 'Shaft in Africa.'

John Guillermin, the British filmmaker who directed Dino De Laurentiis King Kong starring Jessica Lange and the disaster classic The Towering Inferno, has died. He was 89.

Guillermin, who also helmed the famed Agatha Christie whodunit Death on the Nile (1978), died Sunday of a heart attack at his home in Topanga, Calif., his wife, Mary, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Before guiding Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno (1974), an Academy Award nominee for best picture, Guillermin honed his disaster-film chops by helming Skyjacked (1972), starring Charlton Heston. And he followed his 1976 version of King Kong with King Kong Lives (1986), also produced by De Laurentiis.

Guillermin teamed with actor George Peppard on the highly regarded war film The Blue Max (1966) as well as on P.J. (1968) and House of Cards (1968). He also collaborated with Peter Sellers on Never Let Go (1960) and Waltz of the Toreadors (1962).

Guillermin directed the war films Hell, Heaven or Hoboken (1958) starring John Mills, Guns at Batasi (1964) with Richard Attenborough and David L. Wolper’s The Bridge at Remagen (1969), starring George Segal and Ben Gazzara.

His résumé also includes The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960) and the sequel Shaft in Africa (1973), starring Richard Roundtree.

 

Born in London, Guillermin received his film training in France and served as a pilot during World War II. After working on documentaries and spending time in Hollywood, he returned to England and wrote, directed and produced the crime thriller Paper Gallows (1950).

Guillermin directed for two British TV series starring Patrick McGoohan and Lorne Greene, then made a splash with the film The Whole Truth (1958), a film noir drama that starred Stewart Granger, Donna Reed and George Sanders.

Guillermin also wrote and directed two movies featuring the King of the Jungle: Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959), with Gordon Scott in the title role, and Tarzan Goes to India (1962), this one starring Jock Mahoney. He returned to the genre with Sheena (1984), starring Tanya Roberts as a jungle woman. (His son, Michael-John, was killed in a car accident at age 21 during the filming of the latter.)

Known for his fierce temper and perfectionist streak, Guillermin was replaced on the Heston war film Midway (1976) in favor of Jack Smight and on Sahara (1983), starring Brooke Shields, by Andrew V. McLaglen.

Guillermin was married to actress and author Maureen Connell for 40 years before their divorce. 
 
In addition to Mary, his wife of 16 years, survivors include his daughter Michelle and granddaughter Greer.
 
Rapture (1965), a drama about a father (Melvyn Douglas) and his teenage daughter (Patricia Gozzi) who befriend an escaped convict (Dean Stockwell), was "his best and least-known film," according to his wife. She said that the family will honor his memory with a screening of the movie, with details to be announced.
 
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Updated at 5:45 p.m. on Sept. 30 with details of death supplied by his wife.

 

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