Brian Gibson, an award-winning film and television director, died Sunday at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. He was 59 and had been battling Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, for the last two years.
Born to working-class parents in South End-on-Sea, Gibson was accepted into Cambridge U., where he studied pre-med before deciding to pursue a career in film. In the late 1960s, he began working for the BBC directing scientific documentaries.
By the end of the ’70s, he had produced some of the BBC’s most acclaimed films. Most notable was his collaboration with writer Dennis Potter.
In 1976, Gibson directed Potter’s “Where Adam Stood,” based on the 1907 autobiography “Father and Son” by Christian fundamentalist-naturalist Edmund Gosse. Three years later, they collaborated on Potter’s “Blue Remembered Hills,” starring Helen Mirren and Colin Welland.
The title was taken from A.E. Housman’s 1896 poem: “Into my heart an air that kills/From yon far country blows./What are those blue remembered hills.” Pic depicted a world from the perspective of children and was set in the West Country of England in 1943.
The film was widely praised and fully launched the careers of its writer, stars and Gibson, winning the BAFTA for best single play and the Broadcasting Press Award for drama.
“Brian contributed considerably to its success by the directness, simplicity and commitment he brought to realizing unselfconsciously an outrageous idea — adults playing children,” said pic’s producer, Kenith Trodd. “None of the stage versions of the script, including the National Theater one, come anywhere near getting the immediacy and rawness of Potter’s writing as Brian did.”
“The BBC was a great place for Brian to work,” Helen Mirren recalled, “and they were very lucky to have him. He was really a great director with a subversive anarchy about his method. I loved working with him. He was brilliant.”
After completing his first feature film, “Breaking Glass,” a searing portrait of a punk rock singer, Gibson was lured to Hollywood in 1980 with a multitude of studio offers. Over the next 15 years, he directed, produced and wrote a dozen films for theatrical and HBO release. He made a name for himself as an accomplished film adapter of true-life stories.
Among his films were “The Juror” (1996), starring Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin; and “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” (1993), a critical and box office success chronicling pop star Tina Turner’s rise to fame. The film won Oscar nominations for thesps Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett.
Gibson was equally successful in adapting the life story of the music legend Josephine Baker in a film for HBO, “The Josephine Baker Story” (1991), winning the Emmy in direction for Gibson, a Golden Globe for actor Louis Gossett Jr. and a Directors Guild of America nomination for dramatic special. Also for HBO, he directed “Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story” (1989) about the life of the celebrated Nazi hunter, for which star Ben Kingsley was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Gibson also collaborated with Michael Mann, directing miniseries “Drug Wars: The Camarena Story,” depicting the life, capture and death of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. He also directed “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” (1986).
Gibson had his own production company that produced dozens of commercials and musicvideos. In 2002, he executive produced the Oscar-winning biopic “Frida.”
In 1998, Gibson returned to his roots in low-budget independent films to direct “Still Crazy” in London, a parody of aging rock ‘n’ rollers. The film, starring Bill Nighy and Billy Connolly, won appreciative reviews and several award nominations including the Golden Globe for best pic (musical/comedy), but received meager distribution.
Gibson was preparing to direct a film for Fox when he was diagnosed with cancer.
He is survived by his wife, photographer-singer Paula Guarderas Gibson, two daughters, his mother and a sister. Memorials will be held in London and Los Angeles.