Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz died of cancer at the age of 78 on Sunday, his family announced in a statement.
Also known for producing American Graffiti and The Dark Crystal, Gary Kurtz was a supporter of George Lucas’ Star Wars as it underwent multiple drafts and assisted the filmmaker in handling 20th Century Fox’s lack of enthusiasm for the project. The statement released by Kurtz’ family reads:
“Gary was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, friend, colleague, and mentor, whose work and talent spanned filmmaking, photography, music, and cinema history. He was a Marine, a world traveller, an outdoorsman, and a kind, compassionate human being. … Gary was a magnificent man, who will be hugely missed. His whole family thanks you for your loving thoughts.”
After Star Wars proved to be a blockbuster hit, Gary Kurtz and George Lucas began discussing a sequel to the film. However, Kurtz had to step in as a second-unit director on The Empire Strikes Back as production went over schedule and George Lucas had to spend his own money to complete the film. Kurtz and Lucas parted ways after the troubled production and Howard Kazanjian was brought on board as a producer for Return of the Jedi.
Gary Kurtz also served in the Marines during the Vietnam war, leaving behind a Hollywood career from 1966 to 1969 that he started as an assistant director on Monte Hellman’s Ride in the Whirlwind.