James Redford, a documentary filmmaker, philanthropist, and the son of Robert Redford, died last week at age 58. His death was confirmed by his wife, Kyle, who first posted a tribute to her husband Friday on Twitter.
“We’re heartbroken,” Kyle wrote in a tweet last week. “He lived a beautiful, impactful life & was loved by many. He will be deeply missed. As his wife of 32 yrs, I’m most grateful for the two spectacular children we raised together. I don’t know what we would’ve done [without] them over the past [two years].”
In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Kyle said the cause of James’ death was bile-duct cancer in his liver. James had a history of liver problems, the publication reported, undergoing two liver transplants after being diagnosed with colitis and sclerosis cholangitis, an autoimmune disease that causes liver damage.
“The grief is immeasurable with the loss of a child,” a representative for Robert said in a statement released to CNN. “Jamie was a loving son, husband, and father. His legacy lives on through his children, art, filmmaking, and devoted passion to conservation and the environment. Robert Redford is mourning with his family during this difficult time and asks for privacy.”
James Redford was born in New York in 1962 to Robert and Lola Van Wagenen. (James’s parents divorced in 1985.) In the wake of his liver transplants, which occurred in the early 1990s, he founded the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness. Later, he co-founded The Redford Center with his dad, which sought to utilize “impact-driven film and media to accelerate environmental and climate justice, solutions and repair,” according to the foundation’s website.
It was during this time that James began making films as well. He made his directorial debut in 2003 with the drama Spin, starring Stanley Tucci, Dana Delany, and Rubén Blades. But it was documentary filmmaking where James made his biggest contribution, directing films about dyslexia, the environment, and author Amy Tan, among other projects. Tan, in a tribute to James on Facebook, wrote that she had recently seen a rough cut of the film about her life.
“He used to worry when I did not reply to his emails immediately. His antennae would go up, he told me. So I quickly sent back a response expressing my gratitude, extolling his sensitivity in allowing me to see the continuity of the past leading to who I am today,” she wrote of receiving a cut of the film earlier this month. “I thanked him for digitizing VHS and micro-cassette tapes that allowed me to watch previously inaccessible interviews I did of my mother talking about her life. Jamie did not answer. That was unusual. I sent another email, telling him my antennae was up and I was concerned about him, as always. A week had passed since he sent the rough cut. I then sent Kyle a note expressing my worry over his health. She told me that he read my email aloud to her, and later read it to his son and daughter. It was the last email he read, she said, the last time he opened his computer. He rapidly declined after that and was unlikely to live beyond that day. I wrote him an email, taking care to say what the film meant to me, what I treasured in our friendship. I learned he died while I was still writing it.”
It was documentary work, James once said, that lit his creative fire and guided his life. “I just love meeting people and hearing their stories,” he once said. “Being in the documentary filmmaking world ensures your life is one long continuing education course. You’re constantly learning more—not only about topics but also about human nature. And then to be able to apply a love of sound and vision into how you shape that content—that’s the icing on the cake.”
More Great Stories From Vanity Fair
— November Cover Star Gal Gadot Is in a League of Her Own
— A First Look at Diana and Margaret Thatcher in The Crown Season Four
— Celebs Roast Trump in Rhyme for John Lithgow’s Trumpty Dumpty Book
— Brace Yourself for George Clooney’s Apocalyptic Movie The Midnight Sky
— The Best Shows and Movies Streaming This October
— Inside Netflix’s Latest Binge-able Escape, Emily in Paris
— The Crown’s Young Stars on Prince Charles and Princess Di
— From the Archive: How Hollywood Sharks, Mafia Kingpins, and Cinematic Geniuses Shaped The Godfather
— Not a subscriber? Join Vanity Fair to receive full access to VF.com and the complete online archive now.