George A. Romero, who launched the zombie film genre with his 1968 “Night of the Living Dead,” died on Sunday, Variety has confirmed. He was 77.
The director died in his sleep following a battle with lung cancer, according to a statement from his manager Chris Roe.
“Legendary filmmaker George A. Romero passed away on Sunday July 16, listening to the score of ‘The Quiet Man,’ one of his all-time favorite films, with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero at his side,” the statement said. “He died peacefully in his sleep, following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer, and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a filmmaking legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, the test of time.”
Made in Pittsburgh on a budget of $114,000, “Night of the Living Dead” made $30 million and became a cult classic. Romero’s friends and associates in his Image Ten production company pooled their funds to make the film. Influenced by Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend,” the black and white film about a group of people trapped in a Pennsylvania farmhouse who fall prey to a horde of the undead was said to be a critique of capitalism during the counter-culture era.
After “Night of the Living Dead,” he directed films including “There’s Always Vanilla,” “Season of the Witch,” and “The Crazies,” although none had the impact of his first film. His 1977 vampire arthouse pic “Martin” was somewhat more well-received.
He went back to zombies with “Dawn of the Dead,” which made more than $55 million on a half a million dollar budget, then made his third Dead movie with “Day of the Dead” in 1985.
His non-zombie films of that period gained more attention, including “Knightriders” about jousters who re-enact tournaments on motorcycles and the anthology “Creepshow” written by Stephen King.
Among his other films from the 1980s and 1990s were “Monkey Shines,” Edgar Allen Poe adaptation “Two Evil Eyes,” in collaboration with Dario Argento, “The Dark Half’ and “Bruiser” (which featured the horror-punk band The Misfits). He also directed the music video "Scream" for The Misfits.
He exec produced and updated his own screenplay for Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead.” He made a cameo appearance in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Romero was originally set to direct “Resident Evil,” but left the project due to creative differences.
His fourth Dead movie “Land of the Dead” was made in Toronto in 2005, starring Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento and John Leguizamo.
He followed that with “Diary of the Dead” in 2008 and “Survival of the Dead” in 2010. He also worked on video games and wrote comic books.
Born in the Bronx, Romero’s father was Cuban and his mother Lithuanian. He graduated Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, then began shooting shorts and commercials, including a segment of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”
He is survived by his wife Suzanne and two children.