NEW YORK — George A. Romero, a horror visionary who created the modern zombie genre with his 1968 cult film, “Night of the Living Dead,” which has influenced generations of horror enthusiasts, died Sunday in Toronto. He was 77.
His death came after “a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer,” his family said in a statement.
“Night of the Living Dead,” made for about $100,000, was released when racial tensions were high in the United States. Mr. Romero had not intended to address that climate in the film, but with Duane Jones, a black man, as the lead, it was impossible to ignore the connection, Mr. Romero told NPR in a 2014 interview.
“We never thought of it being a racial piece at all, never,” he said. “But because the character was played by an African-American, you almost don’t notice anything else. We didn’t realize that. Duane did.”
“I think that was largely what made the film noticeable,” he said.
Mr. Romero went on to add installments to the “Dead” series, including “Dawn of the Dead” (1979) and “Day of the Dead” (1985). The film critic Roger Ebert called “Dawn of the Dead” “one of the best horror films ever made.’’
Mr. Romero’s “Land of the Dead” in 2005 was his largest-budget studio-backed film, and became one of his biggest box-office successes.
Mr. Romero returned to independent filmmaking with “Diary of the Dead” (2008), and he described it as one that “comes from my heart.”
Most recently, Mr. Romero tried his hand at comic books, creating “The Empire of the Dead” series starting in 2014, published by Marvel, which combines zombies and vampires.
About adding vampires to his repertoire, Mr. Romero said that he has always seen them as quite villainous.
“I grew up on the famous monsters of film land, so to me they’ve just been the villains all along. There are a few sort of ‘OK’ vampires in the story, but most of them are the oppressors,” he said.
He also felt the need to move beyond zombies, he said, after the film “Zombieland” came out in 2009.
“All of a sudden came ‘Zombieland,’” he said, which was one of the first zombie films to become a major blockbuster hit. “You know, gosh, all of a sudden, you can’t make a little zombie film anymore,” he said.
His other films include “Knightriders” (1981), “Creepshow” (1982), and “Bruiser” (2001).
George Andrew Romero was born Feb. 4, 1940, in New York City. He grew up a fan of classic movie monsters, and told NPR he did not expect to create a movement with his film.
“All I did was I took them out of ‘exotica’ and I made them the neighbors,” he said.
Mr. Romero graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960, where he had studied graphic arts. He learned the film business working on the sets of movies.
He leaves his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero; his daughter, Tina; and two sons, Andrew and Cameron.
Sad to hear my favorite collaborator--and good old friend--George Romero has died. George, there will never be another like you.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 16, 2017