George Hickenlooper, an accomplished film director who first started making movies on an 8 mm camera as a student at St. Louis University High School, was found dead Saturday (Oct. 30, 2010) in Denver. He was 47.
He died in his sleep of a heart attack, said his father, George Hickenlooper Jr., a St. Louis playwright.
"It was a complete shock," his father said. "I don't think he was aware of any health problems."
Mr. Hickenlooper, who lived in Los Angeles, was at a film festival for the première of his latest movie, "Casino Jack," starring Kevin Spacey. The movie, about disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is set to open in December.
Mr. Hickenlooper directed the 2006 movie "Factory Girl," which imagines a love triangle among Bob Dylan, model Edie Sedgwick and artist Andy Warhol. He told the Post-Dispatch in 2007 that Dylan had threatened to sue him over the script.
He also directed the 2001 movie "The Man from Elysian Fields" starring Mick Jagger, Andy Garcia and Angelica Huston. His breakthrough movie, which premièred at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991, was "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse," a documentary about the making of "Apocalypse Now."
"I don't think his films catered to what mainstream movies were supposed to be about," fellow moviemaker and St. Louis high school friend James Gunn (of the "Scooby-Doo" movies) said. "They were about people."
A St. Louis native, Mr. Hickenlooper loved to watch old movies when he was growing up and amassed a large movie poster collection. He was especially fond of the movies of Orson Welles.
At St. Louis University High, Mr. Hickenlooper became part of a group of friends, who continue to keep in touch, who liked to make art and movies and so gave themselves the nickname the "Splicers."
"We were kind of like the outcast, arty, new wave kids at the school," said Steve Diet Goedde, a member of the group who is now a photographer based in Los Angeles. "We had our own cafeteria table we hung out at. When everyone else was out partying and at football games, we were more interested in making art together."
Mr. Hickenlooper initially wanted to be a comic book artist, Goedde said. But he soon changed his mind when the two of them began playing around with film cameras. Hickenlooper's father bought him a Super 8 camera when he was 13 - a camera he continued to use in his later years and which was used as a prop of the Andy Warhol character in "Factory Girl."
He made a number of movies when he was in high school, many of which dealt with weighty subjects such as racial prejudice and the Vietnam War. He used Forest Park as the backdrop for one of his movies.
He was the only high school student included in a showcase of movies made by area moviemakers in a program that aired on KETC when he was a senior.
After high school, Mr. Hickenlooper graduated from Yale University and moved to Los Angeles.
"He led the way for me," Gunn said. "I'm a kid from Manchester, Missouri, who had never met anyone in the film industry. To see George, who was a few years older than me, come out here (to Los Angeles) and make a living was inspiring."
Mr. Hickenlooper recently sent his father a documentary in which he had been interviewed.
"He looked really happy in it," his father said. "He looked fulfilled. He had risen to the top of his profession. He was doing what he wanted - even though the work was difficult. He found his dream. Not many people get to do that."
Besides his father, Mr. Hickenlooper is survived by his wife, Suzanne; a son, Charles; and his mother, Barbara Wenger of St. Louis. Funeral arrangements are pending and will be in Los Angeles.