Hollywood Reacts to Jonathan Demme's Death

Jodie Foster, Barry Jenkins, Beau Willimon, Alec Baldwin, Ron Howard, Edgar Wright, Bryan Fuller and more paid tribute to the notable filmmaker.

Jonathan Demme, the Oscar-winning filmmaker of The Silence of the Lambs, has died of esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease. He was 73.

"I am heart-broken to lose a friend, a mentor, a guy so singular and dynamic you'd have to design a hurricane to contain him," said Jodie Foster in a statement. "Jonathan was as quirky as his comedies and as deep as his dramas. He was pure energy, the unstoppable cheerleader for anyone creative. Just as passionate about music as he was about art, he was and will always be a champion of the soul. JD, most beloved, something wild, brother of love, director of the lambs. Love that guy, love him so much." 

"My man Demme was the kindest, most generous. A MASSIVE soul," said director Barry Jenkins, who met him while promoting Moonlight. "He lived in love. And rests in peace."

Beau Willimon reflected, "I only worked with him once - he was just like his films: brilliant, curious & original. RIP Jonathan Demme - a truly great filmmaker."

"This loss hurts deep," wrote PBS host Tavis Smiley, who shared photos of himself "with my abiding friend and brother beloved" from Standing Rock. "Not a kinder soul has ever lived."

Demme directed an episode of Fox's new series Shots Fired, which airs Wednesday night; the episode will pay tribute to Demme with an "in memoriam" end card. "We mourn the passing of Jonathan Demme," series creators Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood said in a statement. "He was a tremendous artist who shared our belief that art can change the world. He was a gift, and he made every one around him better. He taught us to care a little bit more, believe a little bit more and listen a little bit more. We will miss him."

Kate Barker-Froyland, director of the Demme-produced Song One, remembered her friend: "JD was one of the most generous and ebullient people I have ever known. His work inspired me and his spirit did too. He cared deeply about the art of filmmaking and the artistic vision of a director. But most of all he cared about people and telling their stories in the truest way. Those are lessons that continue to shape me both as a director and as a person. I miss him so much already."

Fellow Song One producer Thomas Froyland added: "JD was a genuine visionary: A remarkable talent who spent his limitless energy to nurture budding talent and fight for justice. He was the loveliest man to have in your corner and the greatest protector you could wish for as a young producer. It was an honor to call him a friend." 

Demme, a member of the DGA since 1976, served on the guild's President's Committee on Film Preservation. Said DGA president Paris Barclay: "Losing iconic director Jonathan Demme – a consummate craftsman who mastered all that he endeavored – is devastating for us. In his seminal work The Silence of the Lambs, for which he won the DGA and Academy Awards, Jonathan set the template for modern psychological thrillers, drawing masterful performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. He pushed boundaries again with Philadelphia, emotionally bringing to public consciousness the impact of AIDS in a searing, yet humanistic way. But Jonathan also had a lighter, comedic side which shined through in hits like Married to the Mob, and his global quest for truth and love of music were reflected in his renowned documentaries and concert films like the groundbreaking Stop Making Sense. Few shared that kind of diversity – always at the top of his game in any genre."

In a statement, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis recognized the role that Demme's work on Philadelphia played in raising awareness of people living with HIV and AIDS.

"Jonathan Demme's direction of Philadelphia played an important role in raising awareness and changing the national conversation around HIV and AIDS," Ellis said. "As one of the first major films to address this crisis, Demme broke ground by humanizing real struggles of people living with HIV and changed hearts and minds in the process."

Added Mary Steenburgen: "Jonathan Demme came into my life when he directed me in Melvin and Howard. I won an Oscar for that role and I can't imagine that having happened with any other director.  He was pure magic. Brilliant technically but he never let that make him isolated. He included everyone on that set in the making of the movie in the most edgy, thrilling, wildly collaborative way. He did the same thing in Philadelphia. And, there,  we never forgot for a moment that that film could change the experience of being HIV positive in this country and it did. The heartbeat and the integrity of it began with Jonathan's goodness and sense of justice. I'm so proud to have been in it."

Said Veena Sud, for whom Demme directed episodes of The Killing and the upcoming Seven Seconds: "Jonathan’s enduring spirit as an artist and as a humanist touched so many generations of storytellers, myself included. Like no one else I’ve ever known, Jonathan deeply honored the life in front of his camera and the human beings behind it. It was a blessing to work with Mr. Demme and a great privilege to bask in the bright light he shone down on all of us."

Roger Corman, who starred in Demme's Silence of the Lambs, also shared in a statement, "My wife Julie and I were friends with Jonathan Demme for over 40 years. He started in Publicity at New World Pictures before writing and directing his early films for us, but really, he was a friend first and foremost. His greatness as a filmmaker and as an artist is only exceeded by his greatness as a human being. Our thoughts are with Jonathan's family."

Tom Hanks, who starred in Demme's Philadelphia, took a moment on the red carpet before the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of his latest film The Circle on Wednesday (April 26) to remember Demme.

After the screening, Hanks' producing partner Gary Goetzman, who also produced The Circle, told the audience, "God bless Jonathan Demme."

See more reactions from Hollywood below.