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'Brat Pack' director John Hughes dies of heart attack

Filmmaker John Hughes, who made some of the most memorable teen comedies of the 1980s and turned Macaulay Culkin into a major star, died suddenly of a heart attack in New York yesterday. He was 59.

Hughes, who had largely turned his back on Hollywood in the past decade to become a farmer in the Midwestern state of Illinois, collapsed while strolling in Manhattan, where he was visiting family.

His films, such as "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," are considered standard-bearers of the teen genre, exploring American adolescent behavior with warmth and affection. He supplied his awkward characters with natural dialogue, allowing audiences to empathize with their travails.

Hughes worked with Molly Ringwald on both "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club," as well as 1986's "Pretty in Pink," which he wrote and produced. He also made a star out of Matthew Broderick, the fearless hero of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" who makes good on his determination to miss a day of school.

"Many filmmakers portray teenagers as immoral and ignorant with pursuits that are pretty base," Hughes told the Chicago Tribune in 1985 as he was about to release "The Breakfast Club," his second directing effort.

"They seem to think that teenagers aren't very bright. But I haven't found that to be the case. I listen to kids. I respect them. I don't discount anything they have to say just because they're only 16 years-old."


In 1990, Hughes struck gold by writing and producing "Home Alone," in which Culkin played an 8-year-old left to fend for himself against hapless burglars. The film grossed almost US$500 million worldwide, a timely savior for 20th Century Fox's owner, News Corp, which was strapped for cash and struggling to pay its creditors at the time. Chris Columbus directed the film and its 1992 sequel.

"The Breakfast Club," a rare drama in the Hughes canon, helped give birth to the term "Brat Pack," which described the fresh-faced, attractive stars cropping up in a rash of coming-of-age movies.

Ringwald and fellow "Sixteen Candles" alumnus Anthony Michael Hall starred with Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson in the film, which depicted five, troubled high school youths confronting one another and their deepest secrets during one long day at a high school detention hall.

In all, Hughes wrote, produced and directed eight films through his last effort, "Curly Sue," in 1991. He worked with the late John Candy on two hits, 1987's "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" and 1989's "Uncle Buck."

In the 1990s, he focused on writing largely family-friendly fare, such as the "Beethoven" canine franchise and the remake of "101 Dalmatians."

"I am truly shocked and saddened by the news about my old friend John Hughes," Broderick said in a statement following the director's death. "He was a wonderful, very talented guy and my heart goes out to his family."

Hughes withdrew from Hollywood in the past decade, in part to maintain a farm in northern Illinois and to support independent arts, his spokesman said.

John Wilden Hughes, Jr., was born on Feb. 18, 1950, in Michigan, and based himself in the Chicago suburbs throughout his career, where many of his films were based. He started out as an advertising copywriter before trying his hand at script writing.

He recalled that his early efforts were inspired by the teenage children of his older colleagues. One such youngster warmed to his idea for "Sixteen Candles" and encouraged him to write it, while her brother came up with the title of "The Breakfast Club."

Hughes is survived by his wife of 39 years, Nancy, two sons, John and James, and four grandchildren.


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