NEW YORK (KDKA/AP) – George Romero, whose classic “Night of the Living Dead” and other horror films turned zombie movies into social commentaries and who saw his flesh-devouring undead spawn countless imitators, remakes and homages, has died. He was 77.
Romero died Sunday following a battle with lung cancer, said his family in a statement provided by his manager Chris Roe. Romero’s family said he died while listening to the score of “The Quiet Man,” one of his favorite films, with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher, and daughter, Tina Romero, by this side.
Romero is credited with reinventing the movie zombie with his directorial debut, the 1968 cult classic, “Night of the Living Dead.” The movie set the rules imitators lived by.
“Night of the Living Dead” was shot in and around the Pittsburgh area. Romero returned to Pittsburgh to film one of his follow-up movies, “Dawn of the Dead.” The film famously shot in the Monroeville Mall.
Romero graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1960.
Steve Catanzarite, the managing director of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center and writer of Night of the Living Dead: The Opera, said even though Romero wasn’t born in Pittsburgh, he became a local icon.
“If you grew up around, you know you’re of a certain vintage, [Night of the Living Dead] is kind of like part of your consciousness, the way that…maybe the Pirates and the Steelers and other kind of Pittsburgh things,” said Catanzarite.
In an interview a few years ago, Romero discussed the zombie phenomenon that began with his classic film.
“They’ve become part of the culture. They’ve become almost as familiar as vampires,” he said. “You know, I half expect to see the Count on Sesame Street develop a relationship with a zombie.”
The role of annoying brother and future zombie Johnny in “Night of the Living Dead” was played by Russ Streiner. Now chairman of the board of the Pittsburgh Film Office, he says he and Romero had a small production company with big ideas, 50 years ago.
“We, in doing the film, decided if such an extraordinary phenomenon happened, how would it play out? And to be honest with you, it doesn’t play out much differently than today’s news.”
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Homage to George Romero’s work was reflected recently by removal of a small bridge, which had appeared in “Dawn of the Dead,” from Monroeville Mall – before it could be doomed by renovations. Original actors return each year to the Living Dead Festival in Evans City. In 2014, Romero himself was the star attraction.
“When the page was blank, his fertile imagination would figure out a way to fill up that page with entertaining ideas,” Streiner says. “And his career speaks for itself. He’s done a marvelous job of filling up blank pages.”
No blank pages. No blank screens.
“George made significant and marvelous contributions,” Streiner concludes. “And I was very pleased to be a part of that, including the current movie business in Pittsburgh.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)