Documaker won Emmy for 'Hearts of Darkness'

Casino Jack” helmer George Hickenlooper was found dead Saturday in Denver, where the film was set to unspool at the Denver Film Festival. He was 47; the cause of death is under investigation but police have ruled out foul play.

“Casino Jack,” starring Kevin Spacey as convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, premiered at the Toronto Film Fest and will be released in the U.S. in December by ATO.

Hickenlooper won an Emmy for directing 1992’s “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” the story of the filming of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” The docu, co-directed with Eleanor Coppola and Fax Bahr, used footage shot by Eleanor Coppola during the production of the 1979 pic and also won awards from the Intl. Documentary Assn. and the Natl. Board of Review.

The son of a playwright father and guerrilla theater organizer mother, Hickenlooper attended Yale U. and interned for Roger Corman. His directing debut was the 1988 doc short “Art, Acting, and the Suicide Chair: Dennis Hopper.”

Other highlights included 2003’s “The Mayor of Sunset Strip,” a docu about rock impresario Rodney Bingenheimer; 2006’s Edie Sedgwick biopic “Factory Girl” starring Sienna Miller; and 2009’s “Hick Town,” a docu that followed his cousin John Hickenlooper, now mayor of Denver, during the Democratic Natl. Convention.

At the Los Angeles premiere of “The Mayor of Sunset Strip” in 2004, Hickenlooper told Daily Variety that having the big names on camera was secondary to the story. “The trick for me as a filmmaker is I have David Bowie, Cher and Courtney Love, but so does VH1,” he said. “I didn’t want this to be a TV musical documentary — I wanted this to work on a visceral sociological level. Without being pretentious, I want it to illustrate what happened with our culture and its obsession with celebrity. And Rodney is a metaphor for that.”

His cousin John Hickenlooper referred to this curiosity in a statement. “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.”

Hickenlooper’s other credits included 1995 drama “The Low Life,” 1997 drama “Dogtown” and 2001’s “The Man From Elysian Fields,” which starred Andy Garcia and Mick Jagger.

“George was wonderful to be directed by,” said “Casino Jack” co-star Rachelle Lefevre in a statement. “He was funny, full of life and cared so much about the film that you just wanted to be your best for him.”

Survivors include his wife, Suzanne, a son and his parents.

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