Richard Corliss, Venerable Time Film Critic, Dies at 71

Richard Corliss dead
Stefanie Keenan/WireImage

Richard Corliss, for 35 years the witty, incisive and compassionate voice on film and culture at Time magazine, died Thursday after a stroke, the magazine announced Friday.

Time editor Nancy Gibbs messaged her staff with the news, expressing her “great sorrow” at the death of a man who she said “had to write, like the rest of us breathe and eat and sleep.”

“It’s not clear that Richard ever slept, for the sheer expanse of his knowledge and writing defies the normal contours of professional life,” Gibbs added.

Corliss, 71, suffered the stroke a week earlier, according to an obituary on Time’s website. He died in New York City and his magazine declared that it, “along with all lovers of film and great critical writing, will have a hard time recovering.”

The critic reviewed films tirelessly—more than 1,000 of them, while also authoring four books and writing sweeping narratives on the changing culture and the people who influenced it. His more than two dozen cover stories ranged from Molly Ringwald, to Steve Martin, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Rush Limbaugh and a young Steven Spielberg, dubbed the  “Magician of the Movies” on the magazine’s cover.

The critic’s take on stars and celebrities created indelible images. An old Bette Davis was “the frail wee bird” who still could deliver a line, even late in life, As the elderly Davis arrived on the Lincoln Center stage, she proclaimed: “What a dump!” Corliss relished that “majestic arrogance.”

He pined for the loss of Jimmy Stewart, who he said “lived for movies, fought for his country and died for love. Now isn’t that a wonderful life?” He cherished Gregory Peck and “an era when popular and political culture could champion humanist ideals without smirking.” And he encapsulated the charm of the caustic Joan Rivers, who “could have been a ranting bag lady, if the lady were as funny as she was rude and the bag was from Gucci.”

He wrote more than 2,500 stories for what was once America’s preeminent news magazine. Time called his taste in film “populist but eclectic,” adding: “He was a fan of Chinese kung-fu movies and Disney animation (he put Finding Nemo on his list of the 100 greatest films of all time, along with Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master II), but also the more demanding works of filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman, Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.”

In its online tribute to the journalist, Time highlighted Corliss’ continuing love of cinema. He once wrote: “To transport picturegoers to a unique place in the glare of the earth, in the darkness of the heart – this you realize with a gasp of joy, is what movies can do.”

In its remembrance of Corliss Friday, Time recalled the critic’s response when a fan or friend would ask if a new movie was “worth seeing.”

His “stock succinct reply: ‘Everything is worth seeing.’ He meant it,” the magazine said.

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  1. Bill B. says:

    Major loss. One of the last of a dying breed.

  2. lee says:

    Five words in and you have a grammar error. It should be “yearS.” Does anyone proof read there?

  3. Ken says:

    Mr. Corliss was a fine writer from the tail-end of an era when print criticism was smart and hugely influential.

  4. Mark says:

    “What was once America’s preeminent news magazine?” Was it ever supplanted? The category died. (Unless you’d seriously suggest that People has taken the crown.)

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