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John Hughes Dead of Heart Attack at Age 59

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 6, 2009 at 8:50AM

John Hughes died of a heart attack Thursday while visiting family in Manhattan. He was 59.
Thompson on Hollywood

John Hughes died of a heart attack Thursday while visiting family in Manhattan. He was 59.

Based in Chicago, John Hughes made a huge impact on 80s film culture with a series of teen comedies that had an edge of authenticity; they rang true. The Breakfast Club, especially, will be the film he is most remembered for, starring the so-called Brat Pack, including Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall. Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Home Alone and Trains, Planes and Automobiles are other memorable Hughes touchstones. "He was an American genius as directly connected to the culture as anyone I've ever seen," said producer Sean Daniel, who worked closely as a Universal executive with Hughes, but had not seen the filmmaker in a decade. "No one knew as much about music. Knowing John, he was probably writing. The John I knew could never stop writing."

As a producer-writer-director, Hughes had unusual control over his films, which were made inside the studio system. Known for being mercurial to work with, Hughes would shoot his scripts and then relied on the studio to help him edit the often unwieldy rough cuts into final form. "He had the ability to enter the minds of teens and understand their language and gestalt," said press agent Fredell Pogodin, who came to respect the ex-advertising exec's marketing smarts when she promoted his films at Universal. "Like a lot of creative people, he didn't think in a linear fashion."

But Hughes' output only lasted for a short time. The last film he directed, Curly Sue, starring John Candy, was released eighteen years ago. The writer-director had withdrawn from Hollywood to his Illinois farm, staying in touch with his Hollywood lawyer, Jake Bloom, former agent Jack Rapke, and producers Michelle Manning and Ned Tanen, who died in January. "They're together in a story meeting," said Daniel.

Here's Matthew Broderick's direct address to the camera (unusual in its day) in Ferris Bueller's Day Off:

This article is related to: Directors, Video, Stuck In Love, Obit, Screenwriters

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.