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Director Tony Scott, whose hit movies ranged from Top Gun and Days of Thunder to Crimson Tide and The Taking of Pelham 123, jumped to his death Sunday afternoon from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, California. He was 68.
The Los Angeles Times reports investigators later found a suicide note in Scott’s office. However, it wasn’t immediately known what might have driven the filmmaker to kill himself. Update: According to ABC News, a source close to Scott said the director had inoperable brain cancer. Update 2 (4:19 a.m. Aug. 21): Following reports by TMZ and other outlets, ABC News has backed off its earlier assertion that Scott had been diagnosed with brain cancer.
His death brings to an abrupt end a four-decade-long career marked by numerous box-office hits but little critical acclaim (by contrast, his older brother Ridley Scott, with whom he formed Scott Free Productions in 1995, is a three-time Academy Award nominee). Scott made his feature debut in 1983 with the British vampire film The Hunger, but it was his commercial work for Saab — a TV ad in which a car races a jet fighter — that caught the attention of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who hired him to helm Top Gun. It was a decision that paid off, as the action drama became the highest-grossing film of 1986, introducing Scott to Hollywood and firmly establishing Tom Cruise as a star.
Scott reteamed with Simpson and Bruckheimer for his follow-up, 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II, and on 1990’s Days of Thunder, which again starred Cruise, this time as a NASCAR driver rather than a Naval aviator (Scott worked again with Simpson and Bruckheimer on 1995’s Crimson Tide, and with Bruckheimer on 1998’s Enemy of the State and 2006’s Deja Vu). He collaborated frequently with Denzel Washington, directing the two-time Oscar winner in five films: Crimson Tide, 2004’s Man on Fire, Deja Vu, 2009’s The Taking of Pelham 123 and Scott’s final film, 2010’s Unstoppable.
While the director’s name is synonymous with high-octane action, featuring fighter jets, race cars, runaway trains and nuclear submarines, he also delved into thrillers with The Fan (with Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes) and Man on Fire and crime drama with True Romance (Quentin Tarantino’s 1993 follow-up to Reservoir Dogs; its title and plot are a nod to 1950s romance comics).
In recent years, Scott had expanded his reach into television through Scott Free Productions, serving as executive producer of the CBS dramas Numb3ers and The Good Wife, the documentary Gettysburg and the upcoming miniseries Coma and Labyrinth.
Although Scott hadn’t directed a film since Unstoppable, he was attached to helm the Top Gun sequel, the 24 feature, Narco Sub and, at least at one point, the adaptation of the Mark Millar-Steve McNiven comic Nemesis.
“In the brief period we got to know each other, where he was talking about directing this adaptation himself, I found an instant rapport,” Millar recalled this morning on his message board. “He hated email and instead used to communicate with funny hand-written notes which his assistant would scan and mail to me and he’d tend to communicate this way or by postcard if we didn’t speak by phone. In the short time we were planning our thing I found him incredibly funny and polite, courteous to a fault. I was a nobody writer from a world he really barely knew (he grew up a good ten years before Marvel comics really seized the public imagination), but he loved the anarchy of comics and my co-creator and artist Steve McNiven really appealed to him because he reminded him of the Heavy Metal work he dug, the Moebius and Rank Xerox strips he’d gotten into. I remember getting one of his cyber post-cards with a little drawing saying our scheduled call would be 30 mins late as he had a meeting and I think this pretty much sums him up: Polite and charming to a guy he barely knew and always keeping a personal touch in an industry where that’s often the first thing to go.”
Scott is survived by his wife Donna Wilson Scott, their twin sons Frank and Max, and his brother Ridley.