Bernd Eichinger, one of Germany’s most successful, prolific and influential film producers of the past three decades, died of a heart attack Monday night in Los Angeles while having dinner with family and friends. He was 61.
A true giant in Germany’s film industry, Eichinger was also a national cultural figure.
Responding to his death, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Our cinema has not only lost the most successful producer of the last decades but also a passionate enthusiast and dreamer… He will live on in his films.”
Those films are many and include Uli Edel’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” which was nominated for the foreign-lingo Oscar in 2009; Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall,” Oscar-nommed in the same category in 2005; and Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume.”
Also paying tribute to Eichinger’s memory was German President Christian Wulff: “With Bernd Eichinger our nation has lost an extraordinary personality.”
Eichinger’s showbiz career began after he took over production and distribution company Constantin Film in 1977.
Under his management, Constantin became a leading production company with a keen sense for material that would play beyond German borders.
Among Eichinger’s early successes were such international hits as Wolfgang Petersen’s 1984 fantasy epic “The Neverending Story” and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1986 historical drama “The Name of the Rose,” starring Sean Connery.
“He was like a brother, a friend and a partner for me, someone who took his creative obsession unbelievably seriously,” said Peterson. Eichinger also produced Petersen’s taboo-breaking 1977 gay love story “The Consequence.”
Actor Bruno Ganz, who starred as Adolf Hitler in “Downfall,” said, “I am very sad. The cinema will have to deal with his loss for a very long time.”
Also expressing “endless sadness” over his death, actor-director Til Schweiger said, “Above all, he was really a friend, someone who I loved very much and looked up to. Without Bernd I would not be where I am.”
Eichinger produced Schweiger’s 1994 breakout hit “Maybe… Maybe Not.”
Family friend and documentarian Eckhart Schmidt, who had known Eichinger for decades and interviewed him for several German TV documentaries, described him as “the last of the big-time German film producers. He was a real movie man and passionate about making movies. Today, most German producers work in the realm of TV, but that didn’t interest Bernd. He was obsessed with real cinema.”
Eichinger led Constantin through years of growth, not only solidifying its position as Germany’s most successful independent producer and distributor in the past decade but also launching hugely successful international film franchises such as the “Resident Evil” and “Fantastic Four” films.
He stepped down as Constantin chairman in 2001 to concentrate on film production at the group and remained tied to the company after its takeover by Swiss media giant Highlight Communications.
Eichinger’s work with Edel went back to 1981, when the two collaborated on “Christiane F.,” the true story of a teenage Berlin junkie that became a cult classic.
He last reteamed with Edel on 2010’s “Zeiten aendern dich” (Time You Change), a biographical drama based on the life of German rap artist Bushido.
The duo had previously announced plans to adapt Siegfried Lenz’s novel “Schweigeminute” (A Minute of Silence), a 1950-set love story. Eichinger was also set to produce a film based on the story of Austrian kidnap victim Natascha Kampusch.
In a statement, Constantin Film said: “Bernd was the heart of Constantin Film for more than 30 years, and he left a lasting impact on the national as well as the international film industry.”
Survivors include his wife, Katja, and daughter, Nina, a German TV presenter and actress.