Eleanor Coppola Dies: ‘Hearts Of Darkness’ Emmy Winner & Wife Of Francis Ford Coppola For 61 Years Was 87

Eleanor Coppola Dies: ‘Hearts Of Darkness’ Emmy Winner & Wife Of Francis Ford Coppola For 61 Years Was 87

Eleanor Coppola, who won an Emmy for the Apocalypse Now documentary Hearts of Darkness, directed Paris Can Wait and Love Is Love Is Love and was married to Francis Ford Coppola for 61 years, died Friday at her home in Rutherford, CA. She was 87.

She also is the mother of Oscar-winning filmmaker Sofia Coppola and American Zoetrope president Roman Coppola.

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Eleanor Coppola won an Emmy and a DGA Award for helming Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the 1991 documentary about the making of her husband’s seminal Vietnam War movie Apocalypse Now. The production of that 1979 classic – which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar – was plagued by problems related to budget, casting, script, the weather – a typhoon destroyed much of the set – and even an active insurgency in the Philippines, the battle with which pulled away helicopters on loan from the government.

Eleanor filmed Francis’ daily routine and captured remarkable behind-the-scenes footage, and Hearts of Darkness has become perhaps the definitive document of a major motion picture production.

The entire Coppola family had moved to the Philippines — Francis, Eleanor and their three children, Gian-Carlo, Roman and Sofia — and Eleanor had been tasked with gathering documentary footage of the shoot that could be used by the United Artists marketing department. “I don’t know if [Francis] is just trying to keep me busy or if he wants to avoid the addition of a professional crew,” she wrote at the time. “Maybe both.”

The resulting film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is both a cautionary tale and an existential salve for filmmakers — if one of the greatest movies of all time can survive such troubled seas on its way into cinemas, perhaps that struggle is a necessary part of the creative process.

“The beginning of the film idea for me was certainly documenting Apocalypse Now,” Eleanor Coppola told Deadline in a 2017 interview. “I had no idea. I’d made some little art films in the early ’70s, but when I got this camera in the Philippines, I was just mesmerized, looking through the viewfinder. I really responded to that, so I made different documentaries, because I always loved to shoot.”

Francis Ford Coppola and Eleanor Coppola on the ‘Apocalypse Now’ set as depicted in ‘Hearts of Darkness’
Francis Ford Coppola and Eleanor Coppola on the ‘Apocalypse Now’ set as depicted in ‘Hearts of Darkness’

She added: “Francis had this incredible ability to keep going on Apocalypse Now. There were times when I would just say to him, ‘You know what? We can just go home. You can just say this one didn’t work out. You’ve made fabulous films before, and you can again. Just let this one go.’ But that kind of determination was a big lesson in living my life.”

Francis Ford Coppola is the five-time Oscar winner and 15-time nominee behind such cinema classics as The Godfather films and The Conversation along with dozens of other works.

Eleanor always went to extreme lengths to make sure her family felt at home wherever they were. As with Apocalypse Now, when the family traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the filming of Francis’s 1983 film The Outsiders, Eleanor brought her children’s furniture with them.

Eleanor Coppola also wrote and directed Coda: Thirty Years Later, another behind-the-scenes look at her husband — this time the trials and tribulations as directing his first film in 10 years, Youth Without Youth (2007).

Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin in ‘Paris Can Wait’
Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin in ‘Paris Can Wait’

That was her first outing as screenwriter, but Eleanor went on to pen and direct two feature films. With Paris Can Wait (2016), starring Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard and Alec Baldwin, she became – at age 80 – the oldest American director ever to make a dramatic feature debut. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film after its Toronto Film Festival premiere.

RELATED: ‘Paris Can Wait’ Director Eleanor Coppola: “I Never Imagined That I Would Be Making A Fiction Feature” – Toronto Studio

Paris Can Wait centers on a woman (Lane) who is confronting a midlife crisis of sorts and takes a brief respite from her neglectful film producer husband (Baldwin) for a trip through the scenic French countryside with her husband’s Gallic business associate (Viard).

“I never imagined that I would be making a fiction feature,” Coppola told Deadline at TIFF that year, “but I had an experience that was strong and resonated with me. I was telling a friend, and she said, ‘Oh, that’s the movie I want to see.’”

Joshua Sasse and Delta Goodrem in ‘Love Is Love Is Love’
Joshua Sasse and Delta Goodrem in ‘Love Is Love Is Love’

Eleanor also wrote and helmed Love Is Love Is Love (2020), which weaves together three tales of that explore love, commitment and loyalty among couples and friends. It bowed at the Deauville Film Festival.

RELATED: Watch Exclusive Clips From Eleanor Coppola’s ‘Love Is Love Is Love’

Earlier, she helmed short films on the making of 1999’s The Virgin Suicides and 2006’s Marie Antoinette, both of which were directed by her daughter Sofia Coppola.

In an interview with Deadline about her 2023 film Priscilla, Sofia said her mother’s influence on her work is profound.

“My mom is more of a quiet observer, which I think I’ve taken from her into my work. I think that comes through; that aspect of her personality, or what I’ve inherited from her. That side of myself is deeply connected to her. She also exposed us to contemporary art that she was into, and showed us things. People don’t see it as much, but she’s definitely had a big impact on me, and I feel lucky that I have sides of my personality and my approach that come from each of them — my mother and my father.”

Eleanor’s drawings, photos, and conceptual art pieces have been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, from San Francisco to Stockholm. She made several short films she labeled “concept commercials.” One features hands peeling potatoes while a voiceover evokes Joseph Beuys’ statement: “Even the act of peeling a potato can be a work of art, if it’s a conscious act.” In 2014 the Sonoma Valley Art Museum staged a retrospective of her work entitled “Eleanor Coppola: Quiet Creative Force.”

As a writer, she published two acclaimed books, Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now (1979) and Notes on a Life (2008). At the age of 87, she completed her third book chronicling her recent life. In the manuscript Eleanor wrote: “I appreciate how my unexpected life has stretched and pulled me in so many extraordinary ways and taken me in a multitude of directions beyond my wildest imaginings.”

Born Eleanor Jessie Neil on May 4, 1936, in Los Angeles, she graduated from UCLA a B.A. in applied design and met her future husband while working as an assistant art director on the 1962 horror pic Dementia 13, which was his writing and directing debut. They married in early 1963 and raised sons Gian-Carlo and Roman and daughter Sofia.

Gian-Carlo died in a 1986 boating accident at age 22. His parents named a 12-acre vineyard at their Inglenook winery in Napa the “Gio Vineyard,” and Eleanor created a touring art installation called Circle of Memory that commemorates Gian-Carlo’s life.

She is survived by Francis; Roman and his wife, Jen, their children, Pascale, Marcello and Alessandro; Sofia and her husband, Thomas, their children Romy and Cosima; her granddaughter Gia and her husband, Honor, and their child Beaumont; and by her brother William Neil and his wife, Lisa.

Joe Utichi and Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.


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