On Sunday afternoon, director Tony Scott committed suicide by jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, California. He was 68.
Scott’s suicide marks a sad and abrupt conclusion to one of the most influential careers in modern Hollywood. With his 1986 hit Top Gun, Scott changed the template for action filmmaking: While detractors at the time dismissed his style as “music video” or worse—Pauline Kael once called him Tony “Make It Glow” Scott—there was an aggression and edge to his work that sought to land those gorgeous images with maximum impact. It was the first of several collaborations with producer Jerry Bruckheimer (and the late Don Simpson), and set the standard for all future Bruckheimer productions and the next generation of action directors. Opinions on the merit of his work may vary, but any serious history of commercial filmmaking in the late 20th/early 21st century has to be told through Tony Scott. It’s almost an incidental point that Top Gun happened to launch Tom Cruise to superstardom.
Scott scored another hit with Simpson and Bruckheimer on 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II and 1990’s Days Of Thunder, and tried his hand at the sexy thriller with Kevin Costner-Madeleine Stowe film Revenge, also from 1990, but he went on a tear in the early ‘90s. In short succession, Scott directed three of his best films: With 1991’s The Last Boy Scout and 1993’s True Romance, he took scripts from two exceptionally strong young writers—Shane Black and Quentin Tarantino, respectively—and complemented them with a skuzzy noir style that brought the crime genre into a new era. At the time, Tarantino vigorously defended Scott’s rapid-fire editing, which had departed so sharply from the long takes in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and evidence of the Scott touch (as co-opted by producer Joel Silver) is all over Black’s directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
With Simpson and Bruckheimer, Scott also did the vastly entertaining 1995 submarine thriller Crimson Tide, a streamlined Das Boot scenario that got the best out of Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, the latter of whom he’d cast again for a stretch a decade later that included Man On Fire, Déjà Vu, The Taking Of Pelham 1, 2, 3, and Unstoppable. He followed that up with 1996’s The Fan, which brought Robert De Niro back into the sort of disquieting role he’d largely abandoned over time, and a pair of nimble spy thrillers, 1998’s Enemy Of The State, a throwback to the paranoid post-Watergate conspiracy thrillers of the ‘70s, and 2001’s Spy Game, which similarly anticipated an age of increased surveillance and espionage. 2004’s Man On Fire continued his run of pulpy thrillers with real-life associations, mining the kidnapping business in Mexico for a story of disturbing retribution.
Restless to the very end, Scott concluded his career by pushing his caffeinated style to the point of near-abstraction. Based on a Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) script, 2005’s Domino went hog wild with the fact-based story of an English actor’s daughter turned Los Angeles bounty hunter, answering Kelly’s usual narrative curlicues with a blistering, experimental rush of images and the zaniest cast of his career (Mickey Rourke, Jacqueline Bisset, Mo’Nique, Dabney Coleman, etc.). 2006’s Déjà Vu offered artful glimpses of New Orleans after Katrina; 2009’s The Taking Of Pelham 1, 2, 3 updated one of the saltiest New York thrillers of the ‘70s; and 2010’s Unstoppable was as good as anything he ever directed, a diamond-cut thriller about a runaway train that won some of his best reviews.
Scott is survived by his wife and children, and his older brother Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner), who served as his partner on the Scott Free production label. Among the Scott Free productions is the fine CBS procedural The Good Wife and several other TV shows and movies. More will undoubtedly come out about Scott as people take stock of his life and death. For now, it’s worth remembering that help is available for those who are feeling depressed and considering taking their own lives. Suicide has a way of metastasizing the suffering of others as it ends the suffering of one. The National Suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
[UPDATE: ABC News has reported this morning that Tony Scott committed suicide after receiving a diagnosis for inoperable brain cancer. Obviously, the sentiments expressed at the end of this obit were written under the false assumption that it was depression-related.]
[UPDATE #2: Now ABC News is questioning its own reporting after TMZ revealed that Scott's wife denied that he had brain cancer. We apologize for being part of this journalistic ordeal and hope the truth gets sorted out soon.]