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COLOGNE, Germany – The European film world is reeling from the news of the sudden death of German producer Bernd Eichinger.
At the Berlin premiere of his new film Tuesday night, German star Til Schweiger (Inglorious Basterds) called for a moment of silence for the man who was his mentor. Schweiger got his start with the Eichinger co-production Manta, Manta.
“We are all shocked by this inconceivable news and want to express our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences with his family and loved ones,” Eichinger’s production company Constantin Film said in a statement. “With Bernd we lose a friend and companion. Our pain and sorry cannot be expressed in words. For more than 30 years, Bernd was the heart of Constantin Film and he shaped the German and international film industries.”
The force behind Oscar-nominated films including Downfall, The Baader Meinhof Complex and such international productions as The Name of the Rose, The Never-Ending Story and the Resident Evil franchise, Eichinger died suddenly of a heart attack in Los Angeles Monday night.
Phenomenally prolific, Eichinger leaves behind nearly a hundred films and TV movies. His range was astounding – from the 3D zombies of Resident Evil: Afterlife, which has earned some $300 million worldwide, to Atomized, an adaptation of the controversial novel by French enfant terrible Michel Houellebecq. Every French producer was after Houellebecq but it was Eichinger who tracked down the famous recluse and convinced him to sign over the movie rights.
His tenacity was legend. It took 20 years before Eichinger convinced German author Patrick Suskind to trust him with his international bestseller Perfume – The Story of A Murderer. The 2006 film, directed by Tom Tykwer, grossed $135 million worldwide.
Eichinger famously secured the film rights to the Fantastic Fourand Silver Surfer comic books back in the 1980s, decades before the Marvel boom. To prevent the rights from reverting back to Marvel, Eichinger even produced a low-budget Fantastic Four feature, never intending it to be released. When special effects caught up with Eichinger’s vision, he produced both Fantastic Fourand its sequel 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer with 20th Century Fox.
In 1991, Eichinger co-founded L.A.-based Summit, the production and film sales company that, thanks to Twilight, has evolved into mini-major Summit Entertainment.
Despite his vast success, Eichinger was always controversial in Germany, where many frowned at his lowbrow comedies and his so-called “Hollywood” approach to Germany history. Downfall, which followed the final days of Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker, was eviscerated in the German broadsheets…and embraced by the German audience. It was a similar story with The Baader Meinhof Complex. Both films received Oscar nominations.
It was only last year that the German Film Academy honored Eichinger with a long-overdue lifetime achievement award. Germany’s greatest film producer had finally won over the home crowd. Now, they are the ones who will miss him most.
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