It was the night of April 4, 1968, and George A. Romero was driving to New York City from Pittsburgh on a mission: In the days to come he was to meet with film studios in hopes that one might buy the horror film he was lugging in his trunk, “Night of the Flesh Eaters.”
None of the studios was interested, but Romero still managed to get his $114,000 film in front of audiences that year. And though critics panned the picture, retitled “Night of the Living Dead,” moviegoers were mesmerized — packing theaters, hitting the drive-ins in droves and making Romero the father of the modern movie zombie. Romero’s “Living Dead” franchise went on to create a subgenre of horror movie whose influence across the decades has endured, seen in movies such as “The Purge” and TV shows such as “The Walking Dead.”
Romero died Sunday in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer,” according to a family statement to the Los Angeles Times provided by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. Romero died while listening to the score of one his favorite films, 1952’s “The Quiet Man,” with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side, the family said.
Romero will be remembered best for co-writing (with John A. Russo) and directing “Night of the Living Dead,” which showed later generations of filmmakers such as Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter that generating big scares didn’t require big budgets. “Living Dead” spawned an entire school of zombie knockoffs, and Romero’s own sequels were 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” 2005’s “Land of the Dead,” 2007’s “Diary of the Dead” and 2009’s “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead.”
George Andrew Romero was born in the Bronx in New York City on Feb. 4, 1940. He attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, graduating in 1961 from the university’s College of Fine Arts. He stayed in Pittsburgh for much of his feature film career.
The movies and TV shows that have taken their cues from Romero’s work — “World War Z,” “28 Days Later,” “Shaun of the Dead” — seem almost too numerous to count. And though the popularity of something such as “The Walking Dead” would seem to be a compliment to Romero, he once called that juggernaut “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally.
“I always used the zombie as a character for satire or a political criticism, and I find that missing in what’s happening now,” he said in 2013.
Romero is survived by his wife, his daughter, his son Andrew Romero and, from his earlier marriage to Christine Romero, his son Cam Romero.