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Director John Hughes Dies at 59

LOS ANGELES -- Writer-director John Hughes, Hollywood's youthimpresario of the 1980s and '90s who captured the teen and preteenmarket with such favorites as "The Breakfast Club," "FerrisBueller's Day Off" and "Home Alone, died Thursday, a spokeswomansaid. He was 59.

Hughes died of a heart attack during a morning walk inManhattan, Michelle Bega said. He was in New York to visit family.

A native of Lansing, Mich., who later moved to suburban Chicagoand set much of his work there, Hughes rose from comedy writer toad writer to silver screen champ with his affectionate andidealized portraits of teens, whether the romantic and sexualinsecurity of "Sixteen Candles," or the J.D. Salinger-esquerebellion against conformity in "The Breakfast Club."

Hughes' ensemble comedies helped make stars out of MollyRingwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy and many other youngperformers. He also scripted the phenomenally popular "HomeAlone," which made little-known Macaulay Culkin a sensation as the8-year-old accidentally abandoned by his vacationing family, andwrote or directed such hits as "National Lampoon's Vacation,""Pretty in Pink," "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" and "UncleBuck."

"I was a fan of both his work and a fan of him as a person,"Culkin said. "The world has lost not only a quintessentialfilmmaker whose influence will be felt for generations, but a greatand decent man."

Other actors who got early breaks from Hughes included JohnCusack ("Sixteen Candles"), Judd Nelson ("The Breakfast Club"),Steve Carell ("Curly Sue") and Lili Taylor ("She's Having aBaby").

Actor and director Bill Paxton credited Hughes for launching hiscareer by casting him as bullying older brother Chet in the 1985film "Weird Science."

"He took a tremendous chance on me," Paxton said. "Like OrsonWelles, he was a boy wonder, a director's director, a writer'swriter, a filmmaker's filmmaker. He was one of the giants."

Hughes films, especially "Home Alone," were among the mostpopular of their time and the director was openly involved inmarketing them. But, with his ever-handy "idea books," Hughesworked as much from personal life as from commercial instinct. His"National Lampoon" scripts were inspired by his own family'svacations. "Sixteen Candles," in which Ringwald plays a teenwhose 16th birthday is forgotten, was based on a similar event in afriend's life.

In a statement quoted on, Ringwald said she was"stunned and incredibly sad" to hear about Hughes' death.

"He will be missed - by me and by everyone that he hastouched," she said. "My heart and all my thoughts are with hisfamily now."

Tall and pale, with a high head of hair and owlish glasses,Hughes caught on just a couple of years after MTV was launched. MTVteens were drawn to his stories, innocent compared to the films andworld events of the 1960s' and '70s. The conflicts were aboutself-discovery and fitting in rather than hard drugs, politicalprotest or race.

"I'm not going to pretend I know the black experience," Hughestold The New York Times in 1991 after being asked about having nomajor black characters in his films.

Those who related to his films related in full. They hungposters of "The Breakfast Club" on their walls. They covetedRingwald's Ralph Lauren boots. They bought the soundtracks, withsuch MTV favorites as Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget AboutMe)." They giggled at and then repeated such naughty dialogue as"I can't believe I gave my panties to a geek" or related to suchphilosophy as "We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are justbetter at hiding it, that's all."

Actor Matthew Broderick worked with Hughes in 1986 when heplayed the title character in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

"I am truly shocked and saddened by the news about my oldfriend John Hughes. He was a wonderful, very talented guy and myheart goes out to his family," Broderick said.

Hughes was a salesman's son who recalled having a fairly happychildhood, although he was a bit of a loner in high school. An artstudent at the University of Arizona, he dropped out and returnedto the Chicago area, where he began sending jokes - unsolicited -to such comedians as Norm Crosby and Rodney Dangerfield.

He then moved into advertising, working seven years at DDBNeedham Worldwide and then the Leo Burnett Company, and devised atleast one memorable campaign - using a credit card to demonstratethe slide of Edge shaving cream.

In the late 1970s, he became a Hollywood screen writer, and,like so many in his profession, tired of seeing his work changed.He wanted to direct. He was unsure how, and afraid to work withexperienced actors, so he came up with a simple, youthful plot - abunch of teens in a single room, which became "The BreakfastClub." (His second release as a director, "Sixteen Candles,"came out first.)

Between 1984 and 1990, he wrote or directed more than a dozenhits and acquired enough power to move back to the Chicago area. Heremained popular even when his key characters, in "Planes, Trains& Automobiles" and "Uncle Buck," were adults.

But as Hughes advanced into middle age, his commercial touchfaded and, in Salinger style, he increasingly withdrew from publiclife. His last directing credit was in 1991, for "Curly Sue," andhe wrote just a handful of scripts over the past decade. He wasrarely interviewed or photographed.

Devin Ratray, best known for playing Culkin's older brother BuzzMcCallister in the "Home Alone" films, said he remained close toHughes over the years.

"He changed my life forever," Ratray said. "Nineteen yearslater, people from all over the world contact me telling me howmuch 'Home Alone' meant to them, their families, and theirchildren."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun