On this day in 2009, John Hughes, one of the most influential American filmmakers of the 1980s, dies of a heart attack at the age of 59 in New York City. Hughes was best known for the coming-of-age hit movies “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” as well as the blockbuster “Home Alone” series.
John Wilden Hughes Jr. was born on February 18, 1950, in Lansing, Michigan, and spent his teen years in the middle-class suburbs of Chicago, a location that would later serve as the setting for many of his films. After dropping out of the University of Arizona, Hughes worked as an advertising copywriter in Chicago. His first success in the movie business came with his screenplays for the comedies “Mr. Mom” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” both released in 1983.
In 1984, Hughes made his directorial debut with “Sixteen Candles,” which starred a then-little-known Molly Ringwald (1968-) as a suburban high school student whose family forgets her 16th birthday. The film, also penned by Hughes, was labeled a “whip-smart but tender look at coming of age” by The New York Times, and fared well at the box office. The following year saw the release of “The Breakfast Club,” a now-iconic look at 1980s high school life in suburbia, written, directed and produced by Hughes. The film featured Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy as students from different cliques (princess, jock, nerd, troublemaker, outcast) forced to spend a Saturday in detention. Another teen movie, “Weird Science,” written and directed by Hughes, also launched in 1985. The next year, 1986, the prolific Hughes had two more hit films: “Pretty in Pink,” which he wrote and directed, once again tackled the theme of high school cliques and starred Ringwald as a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who dates a rich “preppie”; “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” penned, helmed and produced by Hughes, featured Matthew Broderick as a high school senior who skips class and spends the day in downtown Chicago.
During the late 1980s, Hughes moved away from the teen genre to write and direct such popular comedies as “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” (1987) and “Uncle Buck,” both of which starred John Candy (1950-1994). In 1990, Hughes scored the biggest box-office gold of his career with “Home Alone,” which he scripted and produced. The movie, which featured Macaulay Culkin (1980-) as a boy whose family accidentally goes on vacation without him, grossed over $285 million domestically and spawned several sequels.
Hughes’ final film as a director was 1991’s “Curly Sue,” which proved a disappointment at the box office. Afterward, he largely stepped away from the Hollywood spotlight, choosing instead to spend time with his family on their farm in northern Illinois. Although he continued to write screenplays, none achieved the success of his earlier work.