Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss died Thursday night in New York City after a stroke. He was 71. Corliss worked as a film critic for Time for 35 years, and is survived by his wife, Mary Corliss, also a film critic, and his brother, Paul. Time editor Nancy Gibbs made the announcement in an email to the staff Friday morning. “It’s painful to try to find words, since Richard was such a master of them,” Gibbs wrote. “They were his tools, his toys, to the point that it felt sometimes as though he had to write, like the rest of us breathe and eat and sleep.”
Time also has a touching tribute from theater critic Richard Zoglin, who calls Corliss an “indestructible, inexhaustible resource” for the magazine. Zoglin relays one delightful anecdote where, because of an “arcane” rule, Corliss couldn’t add the names of two correspondents who had helped report a story he had written. “So he rewrote the entire story so that the first letter of each paragraph spelled out the two uncredited reporters’ names.”
Corliss was born in Philadelphia in 1944 to a businessman and a first-grade teacher. He graduated from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia and did graduate work in film at Columbia and New York University. He wrote reviews for National Review, Soho Weekly News, and New Times before becoming the editor of Film Comment in 1970. He joined Time in 1980, and would work there the rest of his life.
Corliss penned around 2,500 articles, including over two dozen cover stories, about everything from Steven Spielberg’s E.T. to dispersing confetti in Times Square to Bette Midler. Corliss had some controversial top-ten lists (the universally panned Speed Racer was on his best of 2008 list), but the mix of high and low was in keeping with his capacity to watch everything. If anyone asked if something was worth seeing, he replied, “Everything is worth seeing.”
Updated: New York Magazine film critic David Edelstein made the following statement:
Richard Corliss was proof that to write for a publication read by 20 million, you don’t have to dumb yourself down or assume that your audience is not interested in the subtleties of great cinema. He was an inspiring figure, first making the case on behalf of the screenwriter against the prevailing auteur theory, then moving into the mainstream while maintaining his quirky sensibility and exhilarating sense of humor. He was pithy, he was fair, and, in the end, he was inspiring. The profession will miss him deeply.