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Eleanor Coppola, ‘Hearts of Darkness’ Director and Francis Ford Coppola’s Wife, Dies at 87

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Eleanor Coppola, an American filmmaker who won an Emmy for chronicling her husband Francis Ford Coppola‘s taxing 238-day production of “Apocalypse Now” in her documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” died Friday at her home in Rutherford, Calif. She was 87.

Coppola’s death was confirmed in a statement by the Coppola family to the Associated Press.

A lifelong creative partner to her husband Francis, Eleanor Coppola took up filmmaking during the production of his Vietnam war feature “Apocalypse Now.” A highly anticipated follow-up to “The Godfather: Part II,” the planned five-month Philippines shoot more than doubled in length due to a litany of headaches and complications, including initial star Harvey Keitel’s replacement with Martin Sheen, typhoons wrecking sets, a reworked ending and Sheen’s hospitalization due to a heart attack.

The footage that Eleanor Coppola shot behind the scenes became the 1991 documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” released 12 years after “Apocalypse Now” finally made it to theaters and received eight Oscar nominations. The portrait of an artist in crisis earned an Emmy award plus a DGA nomination for the group’s documentary award.

“The beginning of the film idea for me was certainly documenting ‘Apocalypse Now,’” she told Deadline in 2017. “I had no idea. I’d made some little art films in the early ’70s, but when I got this camera in the Philippines I was just mesmerized, looking through the viewfinder. I really responded to that, so I made different documentaries, because I always loved to shoot.”

Coppola later wrote and directed her first narrative feature, “Paris Can Wait,” a romance starring Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin and Arnaud Viard, which premiered at the 2016 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. A second film, the ensemble drama “Love Is Love Is Love,” followed in 2020.

Born Eleanor Neil in Los Angeles on May 4, 1936, Eleanor Jessie Neil was raised in Huntington Beach before graduating from UCLA with a degree in applied design. She met her husband while working as an assistant art director on the Roger Corman horror production of “Dementia 13,” which marked Francis Ford Coppola’s feature directorial debut. The two married in 1963, after Eleanor discovered she was pregnant with their first child, Gian-Carlo. They had two more children, director Sofia and writer and producer Roman Coppola.

Eleanor Coppola also recounted the troubled “Apocalypse Now” production in her 1995 book “Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now.” She released a memoir, “Notes on a Life,” in 2008. Additionally, she worked as a cinematographer and director on several documentary shorts detailing her husband and children’s various film productions.

Coppola is survived by her husband, Francis, their children, Sofia and Roman, and three grandchildren. Their eldest son, Gian-Carlo, died in 1986 at the age of 22 after sustaining injuries in a speed-boating accident.