Eleanor Coppola, matriarch of a filmmaking family, dies aged 87

13 April 2024, 02:24

Obit Eleanor Coppola
Obit Eleanor Coppola. Picture: PA

She documented the making of some of her husband Francis Ford Coppola’s best-known films, including Apocalypse Now.

Eleanor Coppola, who documented the making of some of her husband Francis Ford Coppola’s best-known films and who raised a family of filmmakers, has died aged 87.

She died on Friday surrounded by family at home in Rutherford, California, her family announced in a statement. No cause of death was given.

Eleanor, who grew up in Orange County, California, met Francis while working as an assistant art director on his directorial debut, the Roger Corman-produced 1963 horror film Dementia 13, after had studied design at UCLA.

Within months of dating, Eleanor became pregnant and the couple were wed in Las Vegas in February 1963.

Obit Eleanor Coppola
Francis and Eleanor Coppola in 1991 in Los Angeles (AP)

Their first-born, Gian-Carlo, quickly became a regular presence in his father’s films, as did their subsequent children, Roman (born in 1965) and Sofia (born in 1971). After acting in their father’s films and growing up on sets, all would go into the movies.

Gian-Carlo, who is seen in the background of many of his father’s films and had begun doing second-unit photography, died at the age of 22 in a 1986 boating accident. He was killed while riding in a boat piloted by Griffin O’Neal, son of Ryan O’Neal, who was found guilty of negligence.

Roman directed several movies of his own and regularly collaborates with Wes Anderson. He is president of his father’s San Francisco-based film company, American Zoetrope.

Sofia became one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of her generation as the writer-director of films including “Lost in Translation” and the 2023 release “Priscilla.” Sofia dedicated that film to her mother.

Beginning on 1979’s Apocalypse Now, Eleanor frequently documented the behind-the-scenes life of Francis’ films.

The Philippines-set shoot of Apocalypse Now lasted 238 days. A typhoon destroyed sets, lead actor Martin Sheen had a heart attack and a member of the construction crew died.

Eleanor documented much of the chaos in what would become one of the most famous making-of films about moviemaking, 1991’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.

“I was just trying to keep myself occupied with something to do because we were out there for so long,” she told CNN in 1991. “They wanted five minutes for a TV promotional or something and I thought sooner of later I could get five minutes of film and then it went on to 15 minutes.

She ended up shooting 60 hours worth of footage and published Notes: On the Making of Apocalypse Now where she wrote of being a “woman isolated from my friends, my affairs and my projects” during their year in Manilla. She also frankly discusses Francis having an extra-marital affair.

They remained together and Eleanor documented several more of her husband’s films, as well as Roman’s CQ and Sofia’s Marie Antoinette. She wrote a memoir in 2008, Notes on a Life.

In 2016, at the age of 80, Eleanor made her narrative debut in Paris Can Wait, a romantic comedy starring Diane Lane. She followed that up with Love Is Love Is Love in 2020.

Eleanor died just as Francis is preparing a long-planned, self-financed epic, “Metropolis,” which is to premiere next month at the Cannes Film Festival.

By Press Association

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