The L.A. Times is reporting that filmmaking legend George A. Romero has died peacefully in his home after a short battle with aggressive lung cancer at the age of 77. According to Romero's producing partner Peter Grunwald, he passed in his sleep with his family by his side.
George A. Romero was one of the pioneering voices of modern horror, from his low budget beginnings as an industrial filmmaker through in the early-mid '60s all the way through to his death, he never stopped attempting to make socially conscious films that appealed to fright fans.
He is undoubtedly most famous for the series of zombie films he made beginning with Night of the Living Dead, the film that has come to define the modern idea of cinematic zombies as flesh-eating, undead ghouls. Over the next 45 years he continued that series with Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead. The films were more than simply gorefests - though he never shied away from the gooey stuff - they also tackled hot button topics like racism, rampant consumerism, income disparity, and many more, proving that horror could do more than just make the viewer jump, it could also provide a mirror to make people think about themselves and their own actions in the world he shared with them.
Romero's legacy is forever tied to the Dead film series, but it was far from his only contribution to the horror cannon. While his non-zombie work is often neglected, Romero made substantial contributions to the ouevre with films like Martin, which addresses addiction in a way that would be repurposed years later by filmmakers like Abel Ferrera, as well as popcorn films like Creepshow (a personal favorite), the bonkers Knightriders, Stephen King adaptation, The Dark Half, and many more. His place in cinema history is definitely secure.
In the later part of his career, Romero struggled to find financiers for his original films. He had just announced a project titled Road of the Dead which was scheduled to take part in the Fantasia Frontieres film market in Montreal next week. As a result wasn't very prolific over the last decade, often having been relegated to making zombie films as that's what financiers were willing to produce with his name attached. However, he never publicly complained and I never saw him at an appearance with anything other than his trademarked beatific ear to ear grin.
As a small aside, this one hits me pretty hard. I've seen and spoken to Romero a few times at horror conventions over the last fifteen years and he was always very kind to me. In fact, I'm not an autograph hound, but Romero's is the only one I've ever paid for. It is on a Night of the Living Dead 40th anniversary t-shirt that I've never dared to wear. I know that I speak for legions of Romero fans when I say that my thoughts are with Romero's family, and I know that there's no better way to celebrate his legacy than to watch his films for the millionth time and be glad that I was able to share his world for a little while.
George A. Romero 1940-2017