George Hickenlooper dies at 47

Filmmaker George Hickenlooper, director of documentaries Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse and Mayor of the Sunset Strip, died in Denver on Saturday morning.
November 1, 2010

Filmmaker George Hickenlooper, director of documentaries Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse and Mayor of the Sunset Strip, has died. He was 47.

Hickenlooper was found dead in a hotel room on Saturday morning, Denver police told The Associated Press. The director was visiting the city to see his cousin, Mayor John Hickenlooper who is running for governor of Colorado, and to present his latest film Casino Jack at the Starz Denver Film Festival.

In a statement, John Hickenlooper said his cousin apparently died of natural causes. ‘Shock and sadness do not begin to describe our emotions. We are devastated,’ he said. ‘George had immense creative talents and cinematic gifts, but he was so much more than that to us and all his family. His passion for life, zeal for people and unquenchable curiosity enriched everyone who had the fortune to know him. We will miss his sense of humor, his warm character and the avid encouragement he gave anyone around him.’

The filmmaker recently appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival to promote Casino Jack alongside its star Kevin Spacey. The film, due for release in December, is about Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist who served time in prison on tax evasion and fraud charges.

Hickenlooper was born in St. Louis, Missouri and earned a B.A. in history and film studies from Yale University. He made his mark in the early 1990s with his documentary films about the art of filmmaking, most notably Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. The film combined footage shot by Eleanor Coppola on the set of her husband Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 war epic Apocalypse Now with original interviews to chronicle behind-the-scenes turmoil that nearly derailed the production. It premiered on television in 1991 and won two Primetime Emmy Awards.

The pitfalls of life in the public eye were often the subject of his films, both scripted and documentary. In 2003, he released the documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip, a bittersweet look of the life of Rodney Bingenheimer, a taste-making DJ for Los Angeles radio station KROQ. Three years later he shot Factory Girl, a scripted biopic about Edie Sedgwick, a troubled New York socialite who was a fixture in Andy Warhol’s Factory scene.

Other films included Speechless, a doc about the 2007/2008 Writers Guild of America strike, and ‘Hick’ Town, a documentary about his mayoral cousin filmed during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Casino Jack stars actor Kevin Spacey as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the subject of one of the biggest political scandals in recent American history. Hickenlooper, Spacey and screenwriter Norman Snider visited Abramoff in prison several times to research the film.

Hickenlooper is survived by his wife Suzanne and son Charles according to a statement released by John Hickenlooper.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.