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A world of teens we'd never seen

John Hughes works on the set of Weird Science in 1984. He also wrote the screenplay.

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John Hughes works on the set of Weird Science in 1984. He also wrote the screenplay.

John Hughes, the Hollywood director, producer and screenwriter who inspired a genre of teenage angst films and comedies about young outcasts, including The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and who wrote the Home Alone series about a resourceful boy with very careless parents, died Thursday in New York after a heart attack on a morning walk. He was 59.

Mr. Hughes struck an entirely new direction when he arrived in Hollywood in the early 1980s after a career that included stints as an advertising writer and a joke writer for National Lampoon. He created films that were distinguished by the very ordinariness in which he captured teenage life: the mini-dramas over class distinctions, peer pressure, serious (and often unrequited) crushes and classroom detention. He set most of his films in suburban Chicago, where he grew up and which he considered "a place of realities" in contrast with the glamour of Los Angeles.

In his films, Mr. Hughes reversed the long-standing view of caring parents and their clueless offspring to create an entirely new caricature of savvy teens and self-involved and hopelessly uncool authority figures, whether parents, principals or receptionists. Hughes' young protagonists spoke in perceptive ways peppered with the latest slang, and despite all their differences, they were unified by their need to survive without any help from their elders.

As a writer and director, Mr. Hughes helped make a star of actor Molly Ringwald, who appeared in his films Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty in Pink (1986).

His greatest legacy, said film critic David Kipen, was in "forever changing how teenagers behave onscreen. Without Ferris Bueller, you wouldn't have the alienated teenage antihero that Wes Anderson did, frankly, so much better in a movie like Rushmore. Without Sixteen Candles, it's kind of hard to imagine an admittedly better picture like Juno, which also captured that alienated teenage heroine quite so empathetically. Hughes did not make movies for the ages, but who ever owned a decade the way he owned the 1980s?"

John Wilden Hughes Jr. was born Feb. 18, 1950, in Detroit. He earned a reputation as a man with the pulse on the much-coveted tastes of young ticket buyers, and he survived the dismal reviews that trailed him as a writer of National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985) and as writer-director Weird Science (1985).

Hughes, who married his high school sweetheart, developed a reputation as a recluse, turning down nearly all interview requests. He shunned Los Angeles for farm properties in Wisconsin and Illinois. He was visiting friends in New York when he died.

A world of teens we'd never seen 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 10:57pm]
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