Russ Meyer, the breast-obsessed exploitation film pioneer who inspired such trash auteurs as John Waters and gave an early career boost to Roger Ebert, died of complications from pneumonia on Saturday at his home in Hollywood, a spokesperson announced. The cult director was 82.
Meyer helped bring softcore into the mainstream with his movies, starting with 1959’s The Immoral Mr. Teas. He hit a creative, um, peak with 1966’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, a tale of go-go dancers on a murder spree. In 1970, he made the showbiz cautionary tale Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, co-scripted by the then-unknown Ebert, before he became a Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic.
Actually, critics have found much to admire in Meyer’s 22 films, with their storytelling verve and sense of fun. Though he was known for his buxom leading ladies — notably, Edy Williams, who became his third wife — his films actually didn’t show much skin. The onset of hardcore pornography made his movies look tame and all but ended his career. ”As soon as the porno people came in,” Meyer once told EW, ”I couldn’t find a place to play.” He spent his later years making video compilations of his earlier work and mentoring new actresses with overstuffed bras, like Pandora Peaks and Melissa Mounds, and accepting honors from film festivals.