John Singleton, a South Central Los Angeles native who made Oscars history and opened doors for countless others in Hollywood, has died after suffering a stroke, his family said today. He was 51.
The groundbreaking director had been hospitalized since April 17, when he checked himself into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He had struggled with health problems.
“Like many African Americans, Singleton quietly struggled with hypertension. More than 40% of African American men and women have high blood pressure, which also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe,” his family said in a statement Monday, while encouraging fans to visit the American Heart Association website.
Over the years, the iconic director helmed a string of hit films, but was perhaps best known for Boyz N the Hood, his 1991 directorial debut.
Fresh out of USC film school, he wrote and directed the drama that would become a compassionate study on life and gang violence in South Central L.A. The film, which featured Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut in their first movie roles, went on to earn $57 million at the domestic box office. It co-starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett and Nia Long.
The drama would earn Singleton the distinction of becoming the youngest person, and the first African-American, ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. It also received a Best Screenplay nomination. Two decades later, the film was placed in the Library of Congress, a sign of its cultural and historical significance.
The filmmaker would continue to ignite deep thought and discussion on racial tensions and inequality with his movies. Among his other early projects were Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), Shaft (2002) and Baby Boy (2001), which introduced Tyrese Gibson and Taraji P. Henson to film fans.
Singleton was also known for giving hip-hop stars big screen opportunities. In addition to working with Ice Cube, he cast Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice, and gave Snoop Dogg a sizable role as gangster and ex-convict Rodney in Baby Boy.
The L.A. native would go on to direct the popular films 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) and Four Brothers (2005). His frequent collaborators included Henson, Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne and Regina King.
Singleton was also an influential producer who helped younger directors realize their dreams of making movies.
He was among the producers of the Oscar-winning 2005 film Hustle & Flow about a Memphis pimp trying to launch a hip-hop career. The Craig Brewer-directed drama starred Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, DJ Qualls and Ludacris. It took home the Best Original Song Academy Award for the Three 6 Mafia track “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”
His other producing projects included Brewer’s Black Snake Moan and Illegal Tender from director Franc. Reyes.
Born John Daniel Singleton in South Central L.A. on Jan. 6, 1968, he attended Blair High School, Pasadena City College and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He was also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
Singleton would later return to USC where he taught and shared his real-world directing experience with eager students.
Fellow director Spike Lee offered his condolences on Instagram Monday, and said he met a young Singleton while the aspiring filmmaker was still a student.
“I will forever miss my brother John Singleton,” Lee wrote. “We met while he was a film student at USC. Over many years, people have told me ‘I’m going to be a filmmaker.’ When John said that to me the first time we met, I believed him right away.”
Singleton’s most recent projects were in television, including Snowfall, the FX series he co-created. He also directed episodes on a string of hit television shows, including Showtime’s Billions, FX’s American Crime Story: The People V O.J. Simpson and Fox’s Empire.
A trailblazer with an eye for talent, he had a successful career in Hollywood that spanned more than 28 years.
John Singleton is survived by his mother, Sheila Ward, his father, Danny Singleton and his children Justice, Maasai, Hadar, Cleopatra, Selenesol, Isis, and Seven.