The director of "Beautiful Girls" and "Blow" dies at 38

Hollywood’s rarest bird is the regular guy, and by all accounts, that’s exactly what Ted Demme was. By the time of his death on Jan. 13—Demme, 38, collapsed in cardiac arrest while playing in a celeb basketball tournament in Santa Monica—the director had already built a small empire with movies about average Joes and Janes struggling to make sense of a system they didn’t create. (Though the L.A. coroner’s office says evidence ”points to natural causes,” routine toxicology studies will delay the autopsy report for up to six weeks.) Demme’s own beginnings were relatively modest: Far from trading on his Oscar-winning uncle Jonathan’s surname, young Ted started as an MTV intern, rising to create Yo! MTV Raps and direct pal Denis Leary’s signature black-and-white promo rants. He went on to helm hardscrabble films like Beautiful Girls with Matt Dillon, Life with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, and last year’s Johnny Depp drama Blow. His next project, the sea thriller Nautica, was to star Ewan McGregor and Heath Ledger. But his greatest legacy may be the relationships he forged with collaborators like Leary and ex-New Line production prez Mike De Luca, who greenlit Blow. ”He had this extreme generosity of spirit,” De Luca recalls. ”He didn’t just say hello to you, he hugged you. He wasn’t just your friend, he was your biggest fan.”