Friends Unaware of Director’s Heart Problem
Friends of director Ted Demme, who was found to have small traces of cocaine in his system at the time of his death, said they were aware he occasionally used the drug but that they did not know his heart condition was so delicate.
The official cause of Demme’s death, announced over the weekend by the Los Angeles County medical examiner, was a heart attack, with coronary artery disease listed as a contributing factor. The metabolized cocaine could have played a part in bringing on the heart attack, the medical examiner said.
The 38-year-old director had thickened heart arteries and died when a blood clot formed in a heart vessel, the coroner said.
“There is a history of him having problems with his heart--hypertension and high blood pressure,” said Scott Carrier, a spokesman for the medical examiner. “The use of the cocaine is a contributing factor.”
But some of his friends said the director may not have realized how serious his heart condition was. “He clearly didn’t know he had a heart problem; otherwise I know he would not have done that,” said one friend who asked to remain anonymous. “I know that he was a guy who liked to party, but not any more than lots of other people who do cocaine and every other drug and are still alive and kicking.”
Demme, father of a 2-month-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, was pronounced dead Jan. 13 at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center after paramedics rushed him to the facility in full cardiac arrest.
Demme, the nephew of director Jonathan Demme, was playing in an NBA Entertainment League game at Crossroads School in Santa Monica at the time of the attack. He collapsed shortly after leaving the court and sitting down on the bench, sources said.
Acquaintances said they were not aware Demme had a history of heart or health problems and that he played basketball with friends as often as five times a week.
Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese said he was not aware that Demme used drugs and regretted the fact that his autopsy report could tarnish his reputation.
He was, LaGravenese said, “a wonderful father and partner and friend.” Being a cocaine user “is the last thing in my mind I would ever refer to him as. I wouldn’t even think of referring to him as that. It’s kind of hurtful.”
Ironically, Demme’s last movie was “Blow,” the story of George Jung, a small-town kid from New England who became Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s right-hand man in the United States during the 1970s. The film starred Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz.
But LaGravenese said Demme was attracted to Jung’s story because of its tragedy, not the cocaine use or fast lifestyle. “‘Blow’ was a about a guy caught in the wrong path who loses his daughter, the thing he loves most,” LaGravenese said. “That was what appealed to him. It wasn’t about the drugs or how great drugs are.”
The bearded, outgoing Demme worked in the entertainment industry for more than a decade, both as a producer and director. Much of his best-known work, including episodes of “Homicide: Life on the Street” and the films “Blow,” “Monument Ave.” and “The Ref” combined gritty, urban stories with offbeat, sharp-edged humor.
At the time of his death, Demme was working on pilot programs for two networks, and he was seen as a promising film director. His gregarious personality also made him a fixture in some of Hollywood’s most famous hangouts.
Dan Tana’s restaurant renamed a popular dish in the director’s honor a day after his death. The Chicken Parmigiana Ted Demme, a breaded, deep-fried breast of chicken smothered in mozzarella and marinara sauce, was the director’s favorite item on the menu, assistant manager Nada Palikovic said.
Palikovic said Demme came to the restaurant two or three times a week and nearly always ordered that dish. “He was a steady customer,” she said.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.