Quentin Tarantino, Marc Webb and Others Remember ‘Django Unchained’ Production Designer J. Michael Riva

Emmy-winning designer died after suffering a stroke on location last week; he was 63

Veteran production designer J. Michael Riva, who died Thursday after suffering a severe stroke while filming “Django Unchained” last week, is being remembered by many who knew him, including “Django” director Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Weinstein, “The Amazing Spider-Man” director Marc Webb and many others.

“Michael became a dear friend on this picture, as well as a magnificent, talented colleague,” Tarantino said. “Every member of our ‘Django’ crew family is devastated by this tragic loss as we persevere on his wonderful sets.”

The eldest grandson of screen legend Marlene Dietrich, Riva (pictured, far left) suffered a severe stroke Friday, June 1, in New Orleans, while preparing to head to the studio during filming of “Django Unchained.” He died Thursday afternoon while surrounded by his family. He was 63.

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Marc Webb, who worked with Riva on the upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man,” remembers Riva as “a wonderful collaborator, brilliant designer, an emphatic perfectionist — but most of all he was a great friend. He was a gift from the universe and I will miss him like crazy.”

Harvey Weinstein, whose company is releasing the western “Django Unchained” domestically, said that Riva's “creativity enhanced every frame of the film. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal, who worked with Riva on “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and many other projects, called Riva “a great friend and a tremendous talent, able to tailor the look and mood of a story to the emotion in the script. We are stunned and saddened by his passing.”

Riva's many credits over his decades-long career include “The Goonies,” “The Color Purple” (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), “A Few Good Men,” and the “Iron Man” and “Lethal Weapon” films. On the television front, Riva worked on the Emmy-winning film “Tuesdays With Morrie” and the “74th Academy Awards.” Riva won an Emmy for his work on the “79th Academy Awards,” which aired in 2007.

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He also received a Writers Guild of America nomination for his original screenplay “Lily in Winter,” which was produced for Showtime.

Riva is survived by his wife Wendy and four sons, Jean-Paul, Mikey, Daniel and Adam, as well as his mother Maria Sieber Riva and brothers Peter, David and Paul Riva.

A service to remember Riva's life is pending. In lieu of flowers, his family is asking for donations to H.O.P.E. Haiti or A Place Called Home.

  • JAlexanderB

    I heard a great story about Michael Riva's upbringing. Michael's father was a famous Broadway set designer, and supposedly every year, he would design a new bedroom in the house for the kids to live in for the next year. However, this bedroom was never any ordinary room, but rather a fantastic setting like a desert oasis complete with sand on the ground. You can see where Michael got his enormous creativity from. He will be missed.