John Hughes, the writer-director-producer whose coming-of-age comedy-dramas provided the most memorable vehicles for the Brat Pack stars of the mid-80s, has died of a heart attack aged 59. A spokesperson confirmed that the Illinois-resident film-maker passed away yesterday, during a visit to relations in New York.
Born in Lansing, Michigan, Hughes initially worked as a copywriter, before his stewardship of National Lampoon Magazine gave him the opportunity to break into Hollywood. He enjoyed his first major success in 1983, as screenwriter for the hit comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation
– the first of four eventual outings for the durable Griswold clan, led by Chevy Chase’s (mostly) amiable patriarch Clerk.
Directed by Harold Ramis, Vacation
’s depiction of a disaster-strewn trek towards the amusement park Mecca of Walley World was based on a young Hughes’ own experience of a family trip to Disneyland in 1958. And it was the actor filling the de facto Hughes role of Griswold son Rusty, Anthony Michael Hall, who would turn up again in the writer’s directorial debut the following year.
That movie, Sixteen Candles
, not only furthered the career of Hall and introduced the wider public to Molly Ringwald, it also laid down the template for what we typically think of as ‘the John Hughes movie’. That is; focused on young characters; featuring swift shifts from light-to-dark, as humour blends seamlessly with angst; and laden with pop hits and moments of uplift. In addition Hughes’ prolific mid-80s creative spurt (which saw him direct The Breakfast Club
, Weird Science
and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
, as well as writing and producing Pretty in Pink
and Some Kind of Wonderful
for helmer Howard Deutch) was characterised by the notion that his teenage protagonists could find the solutions to their anxieties within themselves or amongst their peers, rather than being forced to recourse to an adult authority figure. Hughes’ films were crucially speaking to their mallrat audience, not lecturing at them.
1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles
saw Hughes swapping his teen company for adult comedians, in the shape of Steve Martin and John Candy - yet a youthful sympathy still resides at the heart of the movie, with Martin’s uptight exec learning to appreciate his own family more via his ultimate acceptance of Candy’s arrestedly developed salesman. However, the critically-reviled Curly Sue
in 1991 would prove to be Hughes' final foray into the realm of directing, and he would concentrate on writing and producing throughout the remainder of the 90s. And while such schmaltz ’n’ slapstick offerings as Dennis
, the live-action 101 Dalmatians
, and – most notably – the first two Home Alone
movies would generate copious amounts of cash at the box-office, the sense of relevance that had allowed Hughes’ mid-80s teen-orientated output to capture the public imagination was, by now, something of a distant memory.
Hughes worked irregularly in the 21st century, scripts occasionally appearing under his florid pseudonym of Edmund Dantès (the given name of the title character in Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo
). But the man himself was generally given more towards tending his Illinois farm than furthering his adventures in the screen trade.
However, Hughes' movies continue to exert an influence, with many of the U. S. high school flicks of the last twenty years – from Clueless
, to American Pie
, to Superbad
– owing him a significant debt. The Apatow Empire recently attempted a melding of comedic sensibilities when Seth Rogen revised a treatment Hughes had penned under his Dantès alias to deliver Drillbit Taylor
, while Chris Columbus (who, of course, directed Home Alone
for Hughes) attempted to imbue his I Love You, Beth Cooper
with a Brat Pack-esque blend of laughs and angst. Yet the failure of those two features suggests that, while ‘the John Hughes movie’ might have appeared a simple model for duplication, there was really only ever one film-maker who could execute it successfully.
, The Guardian