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Eleanor Coppola, Who Chronicled Her Family’s Filmmaking, Dies at 87

Eleanor Coppola, a documentary filmmaker and artist who called herself “an observer at heart,” a description borne out through works chronicling the cinematic triumphs and ordeals of her husband, Francis Ford Coppola, and their daughter, Sofia Coppola, died on Friday at her home in Rutherford, Calif. She was 87.

Her family announced her death in a statement, which did not state a cause.

Ms. Coppola’s career as a documentarian began when her husband asked her to record the production of “Apocalypse Now,” his 1979 exegesis of the Vietnam War that took so long to make, some began calling it “Apocalypse Never.” By then Mr. Coppola was Hollywood royalty on the strength of his first two “Godfather” movies. But with “Apocalypse Now,” he stumbled.

He came close to going broke as the movie, its roots in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” ran way over budget and over schedule. Filming was slowed by steady rains on location in the Philippines, which served as a stand-in for Vietnam. A typhoon destroyed movie sets. Major parts of the script were written on the fly. Marlon Brando was overweight and underprepared for his role as a deranged Green Berets colonel. To top it all off, the film’s principal actor, Martin Sheen, had a heart attack during the shooting.

As for the Coppolas, they careened toward divorce, a marital collapse set in motion largely by his sexual infidelities and frequent tantrums on and off the movie set. “My greatest fear,” his wife captured him on tape as saying, “is to make a really pompous film on an important subject, and I am making it.”

Ms. Coppola had her own lapses. “If I tell the truth, we both strayed from our marriage, probably equally, each in our way,” she wrote in “Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now,” a 1979 account of that period. “Francis has gone to the extremes in the physical world, women, food, possessions, in an effort to feel complete. I have looked for that feeling of completeness in the non‐physical world. Zen, est, Esalen, meditation.”

Ms. Coppola with her husband, Francis Ford Coppola, in 2022. They had a trying marriage but remained together. Credit…Hunter Abrams for The New York Times
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