- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BERLIN (AP) - German movie producer, director and screenplay writer Bernd Eichinger, who produced well-known films “The Neverending Story” and “Downfall,” has died. He was 61.

Eichinger suffered a deadly heart attack Monday night during a dinner with family and friends in Los Angeles, German production firm Constantin Film AG said in a statement Tuesday.

“We are all shocked by this unbelievable news and we feel with his family and relatives,” the firm said in a statement. Eichinger, a former Constantin top executive and major shareholder, served as the deputy chairman of the firm’s supervisory board.

Over his 40-years in the industry, Eichinger was widely credited for his ability to turn novels and stories into movies that not only pleased critics, but also proved popular at the box office.

One of his most successful productions was the 2004 film “Downfall,” for which he also wrote the screenplay. The movie depicts the last days of Nazi Germany in Adolf Hitler’s bunker in Berlin and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005.

His 2008 movie “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” devoted to the history of Germany’s left-wing terrorist group Red Army Faction, was also nominated for a foreign-language Oscar.

In 2005, German newspaper Tagesspiegel referred to him as a “genius” poised to succeed with whatever movie he touches. “May the critics be upset, people love his stuff,” it said.

Eichinger also produced “The Name of the Rose,” based on an Umberto Eco’s novel and “The House of the Spirits,” which was based on Isabel Allende’s book. He alsoco-authored the screenplay of the successful 2006 movie “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” after pressing author Patrick Suesskind, a friend of his, for years to sell him the movie rights.

Bernd Eichinger’s death means the loss of a great German filmmaker and producer who marked international cinematography as few others have done,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement late Tuesday. Culture Minister Bernd Neumann added: “He was the German movie scene’s motor _ his reliable sense for topics and issues impressed millions of spectators.”

Eichinger, born 1949 in southern Germany, started his career at Munich film school in 1970, and founded his first production company four years later.

In 1979, he bought a 25 percent stake in then-struggling movie production and distribution company Constantin, which he later increased to a 50 percent stake, successfully turning the firm around while laying the foundations for his extensive film business.

Eichinger, who lived in both Germany and Los Angeles, is survived by his wife Katja and a 29-year-old daughter from an earlier relationship.

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