Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz has died of cancer on Sunday, his family said in a statement. He was 78.
In addition to helping bring the Skywalker stories to the big screen, was also the producer of American Graffiti and The Dark Crystal. Though his career was closely linked to George Lucas and his films, the two parted ways after The Empire Strikes Back hit production troubles.
It was Kurtz that had worked with Lucas through multiple drafts of Star Wars and had helped Lucas get the film made at 20th Century Fox despite their impression that it was going to be a B picture. Star Wars, of course, was a massive hit. Kurtz and Lucas began working on the sequel, and, handing over the reigns to director Irvin Kershner, but when the production ran over schedule, Lucas ended up paying for the rest of the production out of his own pocket. It was Kurtz who stepped in to direct the second unit work on the film. After that, Howard Kazanjian stepped in as producer.
In a statement, his family said he died from cancer on Sunday in North London, England.
“Gary was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, friend, colleague, and mentor, whose work and talent spanned filmmaking, photography, music, and cinema history,” the statement read. “He was a Marine, a world traveller, an outdoorsman, and a kind, compassionate human being. His life’s work was to share the wonder of audio visual storytelling through the art of film. Well-known for his work as the producer of American Graffiti, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Crystal, Gary was passionate about telling stories that shared the humanity of characters in entertaining ways for audiences around the world. Gary was a magnificent man, who will be hugely missed. His whole family thanks you for your loving thoughts.”
Actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in a number of the Star Wars films, tweeted Monday about losing Kurtz.
“RIP Gary Kurtz,” he wrote. “A great filmmaker and man has just passed. Without him there would have been no “force”. You will be remembered in the incredible films you made that touched the lives of millions.”