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Wolfgang Petersen, Director of 'The Perfect Storm,' 'Outbreak' and 'Air Force One,' Dead at 81

·3-min read
Wolfgang Petersen attends the 'Tschiller: Off Duty' German Premiere on February 3, 2016, in Berlin, Germany.
Wolfgang Petersen attends the 'Tschiller: Off Duty' German Premiere on February 3, 2016, in Berlin, Germany.

Franziska Krug/Getty

Wolfgang Petersen, the director behind films like Outbreak and Air Force One, has died. He was 81.

The German filmmaker, who received two Oscar nominations for writing and directing 1981's World War II epic Das Boot, died peacefully on Friday at his Brentwood residence from pancreatic cancer, in the arms of his wife of 50 years, Maria Antoinette, his rep confirmed to PEOPLE.

In addition to his wife, Petersen is also survived by his son Daniel and his wife Berit, and two grandchildren, Maja and Julien.

After finding global acclaim for Das Boot, Petersen made the leap to Hollywood, going on to work with stars like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Glenn Close, Harrison Ford and Morgan Freeman, to name a few.

He directed 1984's The NeverEnding Story, 1993's In the Line of Fire, 1995's Outbreak, 1997's Air Force One, 2000's The Perfect Storm, 2004's Troy and the 2006 Poseidon remake with Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss.

Close, 75, remembered working with Petersen on Air Force One as a "special memory."

"Even though the script was thrilling and incredibly intense, I remember a lot of laughs, especially in the scenes around the huge table in the War Room," she said in a statement. "Wolfgang set a remotely controlled camera that could rotate in place, seamlessly covering all of us, one after another. You knew the camera would pause on you by his hilarious direction while setting up the shot. He would point to us in turn and say, 'Acting... acting... NO acting... NO acting... ACTING... aaaacting!' He didn't waste anyone's time. My memory is of a man full of joie de vivre who was doing what he most loved to do."

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Director Wolfgang Petersen holds up his directors cut of the movie "Das Boot " , circa 1997.
Director Wolfgang Petersen holds up his directors cut of the movie "Das Boot " , circa 1997.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

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Looking back on his career during a 2016 interview with German outlet DW, Petersen admitted he "probably should not have done" Poseidon.

"I was on a roll at that time. In the Line of Fire, Outbreak, Air Force One, Perfect Storm, Troy — I did all these films in a row, and each one was more successful than the one before. Five in a row," he said at the time. "So they said, 'Wolfgang can do anything. Just give him all the money, we'll be fine.' But it wasn't. I shouldn't have done it, because it just doesn't work like that. At some point you fail. ... I haven't told anybody that before."

Wolfgang Petersen
Wolfgang Petersen

kpa/United Archives via Getty

Petersen added that he was "very proud" of Perfect Storm, which had a cast that included Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly and Diane Lane.

"That was a concept that was very difficult to get through the studio system because it was very expensive. It was the biggest storm ever shown. And the story— I mean six guys on the Andrea Gail boat, who, at the end, as we all know, die," he said. "We got a lot of calls from people who said, 'Wolfgang, don't be crazy. This can't work. This is a summer movie, a $150-million movie. And they all die at the end? Are you nuts? Can you at least have one, like Mark Wahlberg, survive at the end?' But we did it."