Eleanor Coppola, Famed Documentarian and Francis Ford Coppola's Wife, Dead at 87

Eleanor famously documented her husband's exhausting effort to complete his 1979 classic 'Apocalypse Now.'

Eleanor Coppola, Famed Documentarian and Francis Ford Coppola's Wife, Dead at 87


5:52 PM PDT, April 12, 2024

Eleanor Coppola, a renowned documentarian, filmmaker and the wife of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, has died. She was 87.

In a statement shared with The Associated Press, the Coppola family announced Eleanor died on Friday surrounded by family at her home in Rutherford, California. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Eleanor gained notoriety after documenting her husband's exhausting effort to complete his 1979 war film, Apocalypse Now. In the award-winning 1991 documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, Eleanor tasked herself -- as was her nature -- with getting as much behind-the-scenes footage as possible on a production that lasted a whopping 238 days. In that time, Francis dealt with a myriad of calamities -- from the film's star, Martin Sheen, suffering a heart attack to a typhoon destroying nearly all the sets in the Philippines. As if that wasn't already tragic, a crew member also died.

In a 1991 interview with CNN, Eleanor said she "had no idea" the kind of footage she'd get from her efforts, adding she was "just trying to keep myself occupied with something to do because we were out there for so long."

In the end, Eleanor said she filmed a staggering 60 hours worth of footage, and thus commenced a documentary project that would go to win two Emmys for Outstanding Individual Achievement -- Informational Programming -- Directing and Outstanding Individual Achievement -- Informational Programming -- Picture Editing. 

Francis Ford Coppola and Eleanor Coppola at the 94th Annual Academy Awards on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. - Getty

Eleanor, born in Los Angeles and a UCLA alum, met Francis on the set of his directorial debut of the 1962 horror film, Dementia 13. About a year later, she gave birth to the couple's first son, Gian-Carlo Coppola. The couple had two more children -- Roman in 1965 and Sofia in 1971. Gian-Carlo tragically died in 1986 in a boating accident. He was 22.

Following her 1991 documentary, Eleanor wouldn't direct again until Francis convinced her to make her feature film directorial debut for her 2016 film Paris Can Wait. She was 80 when she directed the romcom starring Diane Lane.

Roman Coppola and Eleanor Coppola at the tribute to Francis Ford Coppola during the 11th Film Festival Lumiere on Oct. 18, 2019 in Lyon, France. - Getty

"One morning at the breakfast table my husband said, 'Well you should direct it.' I was totally startled," Eleanor once told The Associated Press. "But I said, 'Well, I never wrote a script before and I've never directed, why not? I was kind of saying 'why not' to everything."

Some four years later, Eleanor directed Love Is Love Is Love. She also published two memoirs -- 1979's Notes: On the Making of 'Apocalypse Now' and 2008's Notes on a Life. According to the AP, Eleanor had recently completed the manuscript to her third memoir.

Eleanor Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola at the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 27, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. - Getty

The family's matriarch, who was married to Francis for 61 years, would produce filmmaking prodigies in Roman (CQ, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III) and Sofia, both of whom grew up on their father's famous sets. And Sofia went on to earn three Academy Award nominations for her 2003 romcom Lost in Translation -- winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, just like her father did with 1970's Patton. Sofia recently directed the critically-acclaimed biopic, Priscilla.

Eleanor, who also documented Sofia's 2006 historical drama, Marie Antoinette, beamed with pride when asked how it felt watching her daughter win an Oscar for Lost in Translation.

"Well, I was deeply thrilled, particularly because she's a woman and I thought it was so touching that the children actually do reflect their parents and their upbringing and their parents' abilities do seem to have been passed on to their children," Eleanor told CNN. "It was [a] very emotional moment to see her. Especially because Francis won a screenplay Oscar at that same age, both 32, so that was a touching circle of life."