Pop Culture

Peter Bogdanovich, Director of The Last Picture Show and What’s Up, Doc?, Dies at 82

Oscar-nominated director Peter Bogdanovich, best known for The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon, is dead at age 82. Bogdanovich died of natural causes on Thursday at his Los Angeles home, his daughter Antonia confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.

Born on July 30, 1939, in Kingston, New York, Bogdanovich was an avid cinephile and film historian before making his own pictures. At age 16, he studied acting with Stella Adler, then made a name for himself as a critic for Esquire. His friendship with B movie trailblazer Roger Corman helped get Bogdanovich’s foot in the door, leading to his breakout 1968 thriller, Targets. 

But it was 1971’s The Last Picture Show, starring Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman, and Cybill Shepherd, that made Bogdanovich a name worth remembering in Hollywood. The film earned eight Oscar nominations, including nods for his directing and his adapted screenplay alongside Larry McMurtry, and won supporting-acting Oscars for Leachman and Ben Johnson. Bogdanovich famously ended his marriage to Oscar-nominated production designer Polly Platt (who worked on The Last Picture Show) to begin a relationship with Shepherd. 

His follow-up features—1972 screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?, starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, and 1973 crime caper Paper Moon, starring O’Neal and his daughter, Tatum—would solidify Bogdanovich’s hot streak. As he told Vulture in 2019, Bogdanovich was offered, and rejected, several high-profile films around this time, including The Godfather, Chinatown, The Exorcist, and The Way We Were. Instead, he would make two more films with Shepherd—1974’s Daisy Miller and 1975’s At Long Last Love, both of which flopped. 

Bogdanovich was at the center of a scandal in 1980, when Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten, whom he had begun dating and cast in his film They All Laughed, was murdered by her estranged husband, Paul Snider. Snider then died by suicide. “Her death pretty much wrecked me,” the director told Vanity Fair in 2014. “I was crazy about her. We loved each other. It was the greatest time of my life making that film with her, and then it was destroyed with her, and I just didn’t give a damn if I ever made another movie again.”

The director would pour his savings into buying They All Laughed from 20th Century Fox before distributing the film himself and later declaring bankruptcy. Bogdanovich also penned the 1984 book The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960–1980, in which he largely blamed Stratten’s death on Hugh Hefner, who had banned Snider from his mansion. 

Bogdanovich caused a further stir by later marrying Stratten’s younger sister, Louise, who was nearly 30 years his junior. “A lot of nonsense was written about us,” he told V.F. “But we were both in a shipwreck together, and we were thrown together as friends and family. We saved each other.” The couple divorced in 2001 after 14 years of marriage, but remained in each other’s lives until his death. 

His later films included 1985’s Mask, starring Cher; 2002’s The Cat’s Meow with Kirsten Dunst; and 2014’s She’s Funny That Way, starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. Bogdanovich also acted, playing a psychotherapist on The Sopranos and a disc jockey in Kill Bill. He continued to earn success as a film historian and documentarian, writing a book about Orson Welles and helping to release Welles’s long-awaited film, The Other Side of the Wind, in 2018. 

Bogdanovich cemented his legacy with the TCM Plot Thickens podcast season about his life and career. He was also an influence on directors such as Quentin Tarantino—with whom he lived for a time in the 2000s—Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, all of whom affectionately referred to him as “Pop.”

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