J. Michael Riva, the prolific production designer whose credits spanned four decades of both commercial hits and prestige films including “A Few Good Men,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and, most recently, Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” has died. He was 63.
Riva suffered a stroke June 1 while preparing to go to work on the New Orleans-area “Django” set. He passed away in a hospital Thursday, surrounded by family.
“Michael became a dear friend on this picture, as well as a magnificent, talented colleague,” Tarantino said. “Every member of our ‘Django’ crew family is devastated by this tragic loss as we persevere on his wonderful sets.”
Riva was nominated for an Oscar in 1985 for his work on “The Color Purple,” and later won an Emmy in 2007 for “The 79th Annual Academy Awards.” That was actually his second for the kudocast; his credits include the 2002 show, as well as the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
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The native New Yorker hailed from a showbiz family: Marlene Dietrich was his grandmother; his father, William Riva, was a Broadway set designer; and his mother, Maria Riva, appeared in “The Scarlet Empress” with Dietrich, playing Catherine the Great as a child.
Riva’s roughly 40 film production design credits date back to 1977, but it was 1985 when his career found another gear — that year he worked on both cult hit “The Goonies” and kudo magnet “The Color Purple,” for which he was Oscar-nominated. He stayed busy — and very much in demand — through the decades, most recently with Quentin Tarantino’s hotly anticipated Western, Sony’s “Spider-Man” reboot and both of Marvel’s “Iron Man” films. He was also a stalwart of the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, and worked on the third installment of Sony’s first “Spider-Man” trilogy.
“Michael Riva was a great friend and a tremendous talent, able to tailor the look and mood of a story to the emotion in the script,” said Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair Amy Pascal. “We are stunned and saddened by his passing.”
He is survived by his wife Wendy; four sons, Jean-Paul, Mikey, Daniel & Adam; and his mother Maria Sieber Riva and brothers Peter, David and Paul Riva. They have returned to Los Angeles, where a service is pending. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be made to the orgs H.O.P.E Haiti and South Central Los Angeles youth center A Place Called Home.