Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme dead at 73

The Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme is dead at 73. He died after complications from esophageal cancer, said Demme's publicist, Annalee Paulo.

The Stop Making Sense and Philadelphia filmmaker died of esophageal cancer, according to publicist

Director Jonathan Demme was honoured during the 12th International Marrakech Film Festival in Morocco in 2012. (Abderrahmane Mokhtari/Reuters)

Jonathan Demme, the Oscar-winning director of the 1991 thriller film The Silence of the Lambs, has died. He was 73.

Demme's publicist, Annalee Paulo, said Demme died Wednesday morning in his New York apartment, surrounded by his wife, director-producer Joanna, and three children, Brooklyn, Jos and Ramona.

Demme died from complications from esophageal cancer, she added.

'A born movie-maker'

Demme broke into movie-making under the B-movie master Roger Corman in the early 1970s.

His storied career included directing the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, the 1988 Michelle Pfeiffer and Alec Baldwin comedy Married to the Mob and the groundbreaking 1993 drama Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. 

The Silence of the Lambs, the 1991 thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as an FBI analyst, brought him a new level of fame. The film earned him an Oscar for best director, as well as an award for best picture. Hopkins and Foster also earned best acting trophies for their roles.

The Silence of the Lambs, however, was an outlier in his filmography, which was scattered across comedy, drama and music. 

Jodie Foster in a scene from the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs. (Ken Regan/Orion Pictures/File/Associated Press)

Demme made numerous films with Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young, including Heart of GoldNeil Young Trunk Show, and Neil Young Journeys. He also directed a documentary of Spalding Grey's monologues titled Swimming to Cambodia, and a film with singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, called Storefront Hitchcock.

"Jonathan was a born movie-maker: He loved people and he loved filming them. Fictional or actual, he caught so many lives and glimpses of lives and framed them for others to enjoy," said Hitchcock. "Jonathan was a true keeper of souls, and now we must celebrate his."

For one of his final projects, Demme worked with singer Justin Timberlake for the 2016 documentary Justin Timberlake and The Tennessee Kids and was in Toronto to promote the film at the Toronto Film Festival. Timberlake, a fan of Stop Making Sense, sought out Demme to direct it.

‘Age is irrelevant’: Jonathan Demme talks about his directing

5 years ago
The Oscar-winning director chats about working with Neil Young and David Byrne on the red carpet for his Justin Timberlake documentary at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Demme has died at age 73 2:24

"I've come to believe, and I kind of felt this when we did Stop Making Sense, that shooting live music is kind of like the purest form of filmmaking," Demme told The Associated Press.

"There's no script to worry about. It's not a documentary, so you don't have to wonder where this story is going and what we can use. It's just: Here come the musicians. Here come the dancers. The curtain goes up. They have at it and we get to respond in the best way possible to what they're doing up there."

Demme most recently directed an episode of the Fox police drama Shots Fired, scheduled to air on Thursday. Demme also completed a film for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to debut on July 1.


  • A previous version of this story said Jonathan Demme was the director of Angels Hard as They Come. Demme was a screenwriter and producer of that film, not the director.
    Apr 26, 2017 2:50 PM ET

With files from CBC News.