Famed ‘The NeverEnding Story’ And ‘Air Force One’ Director Wolfgang Petersen Dead At 81

Wolfgang Petersen, director, and guest during "Poseidon" Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States.
Photo by SGranitz/WireImage via Getty Images

German director Wolfgang Petersen, who was the force behind such famous movies as “The NeverEnding Story” and “Air Force One,” lost his battle with pancreatic cancer Friday. He was 81.

The Academy Award-nominated director died peacefully at his home in Brentwood in the arms of his wife of 50 years, Maria Antoinette, Deadline reported.

Petersen’s German-language 1981 film “Das Boot” (The Boat) helped launch his career in Hollywood, which spanned several decades, Variety magazine noted.

The WWII film was nominated for six Academy Awards at the time, with the director being nominated for adapted screenplay and directing, Deadline noted. A description of the movie on IMDB reads, “The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth and sheer terror.”

His first film in Hollywood was the beloved children’s fantasy film “The NeverEnding Story” in 1984, Variety noted. It’s about a young boy who reads a book about a land of fantasy only to discover he’s the only one who can save it.

“The only thing standing between Fantasia and Nothingness is the faith of a small boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver),” Roger Ebert shared at the time. “He discovers the kingdom in a magical bookstore, and as he begins to read the adventure between the covers, it becomes so real that the people in the story know about Bastian.”

“The idea of the story within a story is one of the nice touches in ‘The NeverEnding Story,’” he added. “Another one is the idea of a child’s faith being able to change the course of fate.”

He would go on to direct such stars as Clint Eastwood in 1993’s “In The Line Of Fire,” Harrison Ford in the presidential thriller “Air Force One” in 1997, and Brad Pitt in 2004’s “Troy.”

Other Petersen films that had box office success include the 1995 movie “Outbreak,” about a killer virus, and “Perfect Storm” in 2000.

Petersen was born in Emden, Germany, on March 14, 1941. He got his start in the world of entertainment directing plays and TV movies. He would graduate to short films and the big screen, with his first feature film in 1974, titled “One or the Other of Us.”

He is survived by Antoinette and a son, writer-director Daniel Petersen, from a previous marriage to German actress Ursula Sieg. The pair divorced in 1978.

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