John Guillermin, Director of ‘The Towering Inferno,’ Dead at 89

British filmmaker also helmed 1976’s “King Kong,” starring Jessica Lange

Last Updated: October 1, 2015 @ 8:32 AM

John Guillermin, director of such films as “The Towering Inferno” and the 1976 remake of “King Kong,” died in his Los Angeles home on Sunday, his wife announced on social media. He was 89 years old.

The British filmmaker was best known for big-budget action films, which also included “El Condor,” “Shaft in Africa,” “Death on the Nile,” “Sheena” and the sequel “King Kong Lives.”

He has directed actors such as Paul Newman, Jessica Lange, Lee Van Cleef, Steve McQueen, Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Orson Welles, Angela Lansbury, George Peppard, David Niven, Jeff Bridges, Jack Warden, Richard Chamberlain, William Holden and Faye Dunaway.

Guillermin was born in London, outside of which he studied at the University of Cambridge. When he turned 22, he left the Royal Air Force to make documentaries in his parents’ native France, debuting as a feature filmmaker at age 24 with the thriller “Torment/Paper Gallows.” Eventually, Guillermin went on to produce larger-scale films, toplined by 1974’s “The Towering Inferno.”

Chronicling the fictional razing of a 135-story San Francisco high-rise, “Inferno” was regarded by critic Roger Ebert as “the best of the mid-1970s wave of disaster films.” The movie’s towering budget was so large it required two major studios — Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox — to fund it in Hollywood’s first such joint venture.

According to Turner Classic Movies, the two studios had been planning similar films — Warner Bros.’ “The Tower” and Fox’s “The Glass Inferno” — and decided to split their respective scripts, budgets and profits.

Two years later, Guillermin would release a titular remake of the 1933 film “King Kong” for Paramount. The fanfare surrounding the movie was monumental for the time, with Lange making her big-screen debut. It went on to become the seventh highest-grossing film of 1977.

Guillermin is survived by his wife, Mary, and daughter from a previous marriage, Michelle.