Long-time Hollywood director Wolfgang Petersen passed away today at age 81. Reports surrounding his death confirm that Petersen passed away in his Brentwood, California home due to pancreatic cancer – the Troy director was with his wife, Maria Antoinette, in his last moments.
Wolfgang Petersen’s directorial career was a long and storied one as he helmed movies filled with Hollywood A-Listers. Such examples include Air Force One (1997), in which a military veteran-turned-President (Harrison Ford) fights to save Air Force One after it’s hijacked by communists; The Perfect Storm (2000) features a group of fishermen – played by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and John C. Reilly – caught in the path of an unusually strong tropical storm. Peterson’s Troy (2004), an adaptation of the famous Greek classic, starred Brad Pitt as Achilles and Orlando Bloom as Paris.
Born in Germany in 1941, Wolfgang Petersen’s directorial career began in December 1965 with Stadt auf Stelzen, a black-and-white recording of a play in the Lessing Theatre in Hamburg, Germany. From there, Petersen’s career in foreign films would last until 1978, including such films as the series Tatort (1971) and the TV movie Anna und Totò (1972). One of Petersen’s best-known German films is the historical miniseries Das Boot (“The Boat”). The movie, released in 1985, features Jürgen Prochnow as the captain of a German U-boat crew during World War II – according to Variety, Petersen had a unique talent for making audiences understand and sympathize with the ordinary men serving on the wartime submarine, even though they all nominally served the Nazi regime. Das Boot was nominated for six Oscar Awards, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Petersen.
Wolfgang Petersen in Hollywood
Wolfgang Petersen’s Hollywood breakout would come in the form of The NeverEnding Story (1984), a children’s fantasy film that follows Bastian (Barret Oliver), a young boy caught between the real world and a fantasy world called Fantasia, which exists in a storybook Bastian finds in a bookstore. Variety calls the film “a marvelously realized flight of pure fantasy.”
However, following The NeverEnding Story, Petersen would quickly move away from children’s films with Enemy Mine (1985) and Shattered (1991), neither of which received high reviews from critics; however, the director would make a comeback with In the Line of Fire (1993), which starred Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent haunted by his failure to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Deadline reports that following In the Line of Fire, Wolfgang Petersen would “quickly became one of the most in-demand directors of technically complex star-driven studio action films” during the 1990s and 2000s, an era that included Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, and Troy.
During the late 2000s, Petersen would also direct Poseidon (2006), an action-disaster film in which the RMS Poseidon, a luxury ocean liner, is sinking, and a group of survivors including Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), Dylan J. Johns (Josh Lucas), and Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), are forced to fight for their lives.
Official reports on his death state that Wolfgang Petersen has passed away due to pancreatic cancer. Aside from his wife, Maria Antoinette, he is survived by his son, Daniel, and two grandchildren. He was 81 years old.