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Bernd Eichinger, Producer of ‘Downfall,’ Dies Aged 61

A scence from 'The Baader-Meinhof Complex'
An undated handout provided to the media on Wednesday, sept. 24, 2008, shows a still from the film 'The Baader-Meinhof Complex'. Source: Constant Film via Bloomberg News

Bernd Eichinger, the German producer of more than 50 films including the Hitler biography “Downfall,” and the 2002 Oscar-winner “Nowhere in Africa,” died on Jan. 24, Constantin Medien AG said in a statement.

Eichinger, 61, suffered a heart attack during a dinner with friends and family in Los Angeles, the company said.

“As with countless friends of German film, I was greatly saddened to hear of the death of Bernd Eichinger,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said today in an e-mailed statement. “With him our cinema loses not only the most successful producer of the last few decades, but also his passionate drive and dreams.”

In addition to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for “Nowhere in Africa,” Eichinger won two nominations for the same award: For the 2004 movie “Downfall,” which re-enacted Adolf Hitler’s final days in the bunker, and for “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” (2008) which chronicled the Red Army Faction’s bloody campaign against the German establishment in the 1970s and 1980s. Eichinger wrote the scripts for both.

Early successes included the 1981 German-language movie “Christiane F.,” the harrowing tale of child heroin addicts in Berlin, and “The Neverending Story” in 1984. Several English-language adaptations of novels followed, including movies based on Isabel Allende’s “House of the Spirits,” Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” and Peter Hoeg’s “Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.”

Hoffman, Suskind

Eichinger also took 20 years to persuade Patrick Suskind to sell him the rights to his best-selling novel “Perfume,” a movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman that hit cinemas in 2006.

He founded Constantin Film in 1977, turning it into one of Germany’s biggest movie distribution and production companies. Constantin sold shares to the public in 1999.

Though he gave up his post as chief executive in 2001, he continued working as a producer for the company. His latest project was “Bushido,” the biography of a German rap musician, according to the company’s website.

Eichinger was “Germany’s most successful filmmaker,” Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said in an e-mailed statement. “He was the engine behind German film: His sure touch with subjects and material impressed and excited millions of viewers.”

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