NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — George A. Romero, the film director known as the father of zombie films, died Sunday following a battle with lung cancer. He was 77.
Romero’s family said he died while listening to the score of “The Quiet Man,” one of his favorite films, with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher, and daughter, Tina Romero, by his side.
His 1968 directing debut “Night of the Living Dead” and other horror films turned zombie movies into social commentaries and led to series like “The Walking 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
The third in the Romero’s zombie series, 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” was a critical and commercial failure. There wouldn’t be another “Dead” film for two decades.
“Land of the Dead” in 2005 was the most star-packed of the bunch — the cast included Dennis Hooper, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento and Simon Baker. Two years later came “Diary of the Dead,” another box-office failure.
There were other movies interspersed with the “Dead” films, including “The Crazies” (1973), “Martin” (1977), “Monkey Shines” (1988) and “The Dark Half” (1993). There also was 1981’s “Knightriders,” Romero’s take on the Arthurian legend featuring motorcycling jousters. Some were moderately successful, others box-office flops.
Romero’s death was immediately felt across a wide spectrum of horror fans and filmmakers. Stephen King, whose “The Dark Half” was adapted by Romero, called him his favorite collaborator and said, “There will never be another like you.” Guillermo del Toro called the loss “enormous.”
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.
“I grew up at the Loews American in the Bronx,” he wrote in an issue of the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine in 2002.
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.
The city became Romero’s home, and many of his films were set in western Pennsylvania. “Dawn of the Dead” was filmed in suburban Monroeville Mall, which has since become a popular destination for his fans.
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