Night of the Living Dead director inspired legions of horror fans,
“I think it’s very safe to say that The Walking Dead and similar franchises to that would not exist without George Romero.” CHRIS ROE ROMERO’S MANAGER
NEW YORK— George Romero, whose classic Night of the Living Dead and other horror films turned zombie movies into social commentaries and who saw his flesh-devouring undead spawn countless imitators, remakes and homages, has died. He was 77.
Romero died Sunday following a brief battle with an aggressive form of lung cancer, said his family in a statement provided by his manager, Chris Roe. Romero’s family said he died about 1:30 Sunday in a Toronto hospital while listening to the score of The Quiet Man, one of his favourite films, with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher, and daughter, Tina Romero, by this side.
Romero had lived in Toronto since 2004.
“George was a gentle giant. He was one of the kindest, most giving human beings I’ve ever known or had the pleasure to work with,” Roe told the Star on the phone from Burbank, Calif. “There was no ego in any way shape or form with George. He was the real deal.”
Romero is credited with reinventing the movie zombie with his directorial debut, the 1968 cult classic, Night of the Living Dead. The movie set the rules imitators lived by: zombies move slowly, lust for human flesh and can only be killed when shot in the head. If a zombie bites a human, the person dies and returns as a zombie.
“I think it’s very safe to say that The Walking Dead and similar franchises to that would not exist without George Romero,” Roe said.
Romero’s zombies, however, were always more than mere cannibals; they were metaphors for conformity, racism, mall culture, militarism, class differences and other social ills.
“The zombies, they could be anything,” Romero told The Associated Press in 2008.
“They could be an avalanche, they could be a hurricane. It’s a disaster out there. The stories are about how people fail to respond in the proper way. They fail to address it. They keep trying to stick where they are, instead of recognizing maybe this is too big for us to try to maintain. That’s the part of it that I’ve always enjoyed.”
Night of the Living Dead, made for about $100,000, featured flesh-hungry ghouls trying to feast on humans holed up in a Pennsylvania house. In 1999, the Library of Congress inducted the black-and-white masterpiece into the National Registry of Films. Roe said Romero showed young filmmakers that they didn’t need millions of dollars to make a great movie.
“He always would say to young filmmakers when asked for advice, when you start something, finish it — so you can at least say you completed it. You learn from your mistakes and you move on to the next one, but always finish what you start,” Roe said. “His thought process was, pick up a camera, go do something with it, but when you start it, finish it. That’s great advice for young kids especially now where making a movie is so much easier today because of technology.
Roe said Romero was comfortable in his later years with his stature among film buffs as the godfather of the zombie movie.
“He was loved by his peers. No matter where he went in the world, prominent actors, directors, producers would all come to him just to say how much he meant to them and what kind of an inspiration he was.”
Romero’s death was immediately felt across a wide spectrum of horror fans and filmmakers. Stephen King, whose book The Dark Half was adapted by Romero, called him his favourite collaborator and said, “There will never be another like you.” Guillermo del Toro called the loss “enormous.”
“Night of the Living Dead was so incredibly DIY I realized movies were not something that belonged solely to the elites with multiple millions of dollars but could also be created by US, the people who simply loved them, who lived in Missouri, as I did,” wrote James Gunn, the Guardians of the Galaxy director, who wrote the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.
Romero’s influence could be seen across decades of American movies, from John Carpenter to Edgar Wright, who directed the homage Shaun of the Dead, to Jordan Peele, the Get Outfilmmaker. Many considered Night of the Living Dead to be a critique on racism in America. The sole Black character survives the zombies, but he is fatally shot by rescuers. Peele on Sunday tweeted a photo of that character, played by Duane Jones, and wrote: “Romero started it.”
Ten years after Night of the Living Dead, Romero made Dawn of the Dead, where human survivors take refuge from the undead in a mall and then turn on each other as the zombies stumble around the shopping complex.
Film critic Roger Ebert called it “one of the best horror films ever made — and, as an inescapable result, one of the most horrifying. It is gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal and appalling. It is also . . . brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of the American consumer society.”
Roe said Romero spent the last few years of his life writing several scripts, which he hopes one day will be given a chance to be seen. George Andrew Romero was born on Feb. 4, 1940, in New York City. He grew up in the Bronx, and he was a fan of horror comics and movies in the pre-VCR era.
Romero graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960. He learned the movie business working on the sets of movies and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which was shot in Pittsburgh. With files from Kenyon Wallace
Night of the Living Dead director George Romero is credited with reinventing the zombie movie. His 1968 cult classic set rules his imitators lived by.