Ted Demme, the promising 37-year-old director of the movies "Blow" and "Beautiful Girls," and an award-winning TV director and producer, died Sunday after playing at a celebrity basketball game in Santa Monica.
Demme, the father of a 2-month-old boy and 5-year-old girl, was pronounced dead at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center after paramedics rushed him there Sunday afternoon in full cardiac arrest. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
Demme, the nephew of director Jonathan Demme, was playing the first round of the NBA Entertainment League Game at Crossroads School in Santa Monica when he was stricken. Shortly after playing, he sat on the bench and collapsed, according to sources. Acquaintances said they did not know of a history of heart or health problems and that Demme played basketball with his friends as often as five times a week.
The bearded, outgoing Demme worked in the entertainment industry for more than a decade, both as a producer-first of music videos and later in TV-and as a director. Much of his best known work, including episodes of "Homicide: Life on the Street," and the films "Blow," 'Monument Ave." and "The Ref" combined gritty, urban street stories with offbeat, edgy humor.
"He was the most generous person," said screenwriter Nick Cassavetes, who worked with Demme on several projects, including last year's "Blow." 'There was nobody who didn't like Teddy. Every time you were with him you felt not only like you were the only person in the room but the only person in the world. There was never any drama. It was like he was your college buddy. I think he was everybody's best friend.'
Born Edward Demme on Oct. 26, 1964, in New York City, he worked as a producer, actor and freelance production assistant before becoming a director.
He began his work in Hollywood as a production assistant at MTV where, in 1988, he had a hand in creating "Yo, MTV Raps." The show was so successful that he went on to become a producer and director with the network. In 1992 he directed Denis Leary in his standup comedy show "No Cure for Cancer," as well as Leary's 1997 show "Lock N' Load." He also directed Leary's 1994 comedy, "The Ref," which also starred Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis.
In 1996 he directed the romantic comedy "Beautiful Girls," starring Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon and Timothy Hutton. The film, a sometimes caustic look at the lives and loves of single men in a small town, established Demme as a promising young talent in Hollywood-though, like many of his films, it didn't perform well at the box office.
He also was executive producer of the 1999 independent film "Tumbleweeds," which received several awards and accolades. He directed Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy in the 1999 prison comedy "Life." He won an Emmy in 1999 for co-producing the HBO drama "A Lesson Before Dying.'
He was a director who loved working with what he referred to as the "bad boys" of the industry, particularly comic talents like Leary and Lawrence.
"I love taking these 'bad boys' and 'rebels' and finding a way to put them together and make it work," he said in a 1998 interview with The Times. "I really love these guys, love their humor. I get it.'
Leary said in a prepared statement that he had lost "one of his closest friends in the world. Ted Demme was a great friend, father and husband-a man whose talent was matched only by his incredible passion for life.'
Leary introduced Demme to the story of George Jung, whose life was portrayed in "Blow." Jung, a small-town kid from New England, became Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's right-hand man in the United States during the 1970s. The film starred Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz.
It was a project Demme brought to then New Line Cinema production chief Michael De Luca in 1997. It took several years to develop the screenplay, said De Luca, who first met Demme in 1992.
"He was the closest thing to family I have here," said De Luca, now at DreamWorks. "He seemed to have everything you would ever want in your life and he made it seem effortless. He was so full of a joy for life that he was a pleasure to be around.'
Demme, a former football lineman in college, was less than 6 feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. In a September 1998 interview he joked of his hefty size. "It's encouraging that studios are hiring big husky guys," he said. "We're a minority that's been deprived of work for years. The millennium will be good for the husky. Watch out, you skinny bums.'
Demme, who lived in West Hollywood, was part of a group of friends in the entertainment industry who included De Luca, screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, Cassavetes, Jersey Films executive Stacey Sher and director Paul Thomas Anderson.
"He was a force of nature, bigger than life and so excited about the future with so much great work ahead of him," said LaGravenese, who worked with Demme on "The Ref." 'He was my best friend. I'm angry. And I love him very much."
Demme was preparing to direct a thriller for Sony, titled "Nautica," starring Ewan McGregor and Heath Ledger, but the status of the project is now uncertain.
Demme is survived by his wife, Amanda Scheer, a film music supervisor; their two children; his parents; and a sister.
Funeral arrangements are pending.