Leonard Schrader, who was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation for the 1985 film "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and headed the graduate screenwriting program at the American Film Institute, has died. He was 62.
Schrader, who had suffered from cancer and other ailments, died Thursday of heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his brother, writer-director Paul Schrader.
Along with his brother, who wrote the screenplay for "Taxi Driver" (1976), Leonard Schrader was known for weaving dark, complex stories that explored violence and the underbelly of society. Among the screenplays the brothers wrote together were "The Yakuza" (1975), a suspenseful tale about the Japanese Mafia, and "Mishima" (1985), a stylized drama about Yukio Mishima, the militaristic Japanese author who killed himself in a ritual suicide.
The Times' review of "Kiss of the Spider Woman" called Schrader's adaptation of the Manuel Puig novel "profoundly moving." William Hurt won an Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Luis Molina, a gay man who survives prison in South America by spinning narratives of Hollywood movies.
The Schrader brothers honed their storytelling ability in a childhood devoid of pop culture. Since their strict Calvinist parents forbade film and television, they grew up hearing Michigan celery farmers tell simple stories "in such a way you couldn't stop listening," Paul Schrader told The Times on Friday. "Leonard was a natural storyteller . Because he felt he was a stranger in his own upbringing, he was drawn to strangers throughout his creative life, whether it be in Japan or South America."
"Naked Tango" (1991) was the only feature film that Leonard Schrader wrote and directed. A period piece set against the tango underworld of 1920s Buenos Aires, the movie was an ambitious shoot on 37 locations, many of them in Argentina, according to a 1990 Times feature.
He also wrote several Japanese-language screenplays that were made into films.
Schrader examined violence in the United States in "The Killing of America," a graphic 1982 documentary that he wrote with his Japanese-born wife, Chieko.
When asked why he was so interested in death and violence, Schrader told the Independent of London in 2000, "My answer is that I'm interested in America. If you're interested in the real America, the real America has got a lot of blood in the soil."
Born in 1943 in Grand Rapids, Mich., Schrader attended a local religious school, Calvin College, and earned a master's in fine arts from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. By then, he had "escaped his repressive upbringing," he said on his website, http://www.leonardschrader.com .
To avoid being drafted, Schrader asked Calvin College to send him overseas in 1968, and he taught at a church school in Kyoto, Japan, his brother said.
While teaching American literature at Doshisha University and Kyoto University in the early 1970s, he became familiar with the ways of the Yakuza, which led to the screenplay for his first film.
Later in his career, he taught screenwriting at USC and Chapman University.
As a senior filmmaker-in-residence at AFI since 1999, Schrader chaired the screenwriting department and taught graduate screenwriting.
"Simply put, Len loved his AFI fellows, and they loved him," Robert Mandel, dean of the AFI Conservatory, said via e-mail. "He was an extraordinarily gifted teacher."
In addition to his brother, Schrader is survived by his wife of 29 years, Chieko.
Services will be private.
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