Before Generation X even had a name, John Hughes gave it a voice. For these kids of the Reagan era, the movies he wrote and directed in his ’80s heyday — Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — captured how it felt to be a teenager with an accuracy and sensitivity so uncanny, it often felt as though he’d jimmied the lock on your private diary. He directed only eight films, yet Hughes’ additional string of hits as a writer and producer, culminating in the juggernaut Home Alone franchise, established him as a dominant force in comedy — and then, at the height of his power, he dropped out of sight, becoming Hollywood’s answer to J.D. Salinger. Even in his absence, Hughes’ knack for translating the humor and heartache of adolescence to the screen would continue to resonate with teens — and leave a lasting mark on the movie business, influencing the likes of Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow. In the wake of his untimely death of a heart attack on Aug. 6 at age 59, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY invited his friends and colleagues to share their memories of a remarkable man — and a remarkable career.
Having spent his teenage years in suburban Illinois — where nearly all of his films would be set — Hughes began writing for National Lampoon magazine in the 1970s. One short story he published there, ”Vacation ’58,” based on his own childhood recollections of a comically disastrous family road trip to Disneyland, became the basis for one of his first breakthroughs as a screenwriter, 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Beverly D’Angelo; played Ellen Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation, European Vacation, and Christmas Vacation:
The real central character in Vacation was Rusty [the teenage son played by Anthony Michael Hall]. The short story was from Rusty’s point of view, and you can see how child-driven the movie was. Children grappling with the mistakes of adults was a big theme of John’s films. He took it seriously, but he told the story in such an entertaining way. He explored the challenges of being a middle-class white kid in a way nobody else did.
Bruce Berman, movie executive and friend of Hughes:
As a young person in his 20s, John seemed older and wiser than most people in that era. He never did any drugs, didn’t drink. He was pretty strait-laced and old-fashioned.
Harold Ramis, director, National Lampoon’s Vacation:
When Vacation came out, I saw John quoted in an interview saying he was going to start directing his own movies because he was tired of seeing his scripts ruined by other directors. [Laughs] He had a healthy ego. He told me, ”I think my first directing job should be really small, so I’m writing a thing that takes place in one day, in one room, with a small group of teenagers.” That was The Breakfast Club.
In 1984, having written the script for the 1983 hit Mr. Mom and what would become his magnum opus of teen comedies, The Breakfast Club, Hughes made his directorial debut with Sixteen Candles, the first of several films he’d create with his muse, a previously unknown actress named Molly Ringwald.
Alan Ruck; played Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:
I met John for the first time around 1983. I was a young actor in Chicago, and he was looking at young people to be in The Breakfast Club. He met Molly Ringwald in those auditions, and he was so taken with her he went home and wrote Sixteen Candles in a weekend for her. The Breakfast Club got put on the back burner, and Sixteen Candles became his flagship into that whole teen world.
Jon Cryer; played Duckie in Pretty in Pink:
Sixteen Candles was my favorite John Hughes movie because he was just trying to be funny and yet he made a very touching, very true, but at the same time totally ridiculous teen story. Molly Ringwald was hilarious in that movie. And if you’ve ever met Molly Ringwald, the one thing you know about her is she’s not hilarious. That’s not to say she’s not lovely, but you don’t find yourself grabbing your gut laughing.