Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton passed away Monday surrounded by his family and friends. His publicist had announced earlier in the day that he remained on life support despite reports from local outlets that he had died at age 51, with the director’s family later issuing a statement he would be removed from life support. Singleton, the first black director nominated for an Oscar, had been in a medically-induced coma after suffering a major stroke earlier this month, on the 17th.
Singleton’s family issued a statement, Variety reported:
“We are sad to relay that John Singleton has died. John passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family and friends. We want to thank the amazing doctors at Cedars-Sinai Hospital for their expert care and kindness and we again want thank all of John’s fans, friends and colleagues for all of the love and support they showed him during this difficult time.” — The Singleton Family.
At the impossibly young age of 23, Singleton changed Hollywood forever in 1991 with Boyz n the Hood, his debut as both writer and director.
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Regina King, Laurence Fishburne, and Angela Bassett, like Easy Rider (1969), Boyz n the Hood woke Hollywood up to the fact that there’s money to be made by telling compelling stories about a forgotten part of America, specifically inner-city black America, even more specifically, South Central Los Angeles.
With a $58 million box office haul, Boyz n the Hood made almost ten times its budget and launched a genre (the teen hood drama) that has only grown since, even to the point where it has been parodied in movies like CB4 and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.
For his iconic work, not only was the Singleton the first black person to ever receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director, he was also the youngest. His screenplay was similarly nominated (in both cases he lost to Silence of the Lambs).
Singleton, who was raised in South Los Angeles, would return to his Boyz n the Hood roots with Poetic Justice (1993), which starred Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, Higher Learning (1995), and Baby Boy (2001), all three of which grossed more than their budgets.
Singleton also enjoyed success with more mainstream titles, most especially Shaft (2000), a superb and entertaining sequel/fourquel/reboot/remake that starred the original John Shaft (Richard Roundtree), but focused on his nephew, John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson). In 2003, he took over the Fast and Furious franchise with 2 Fast 2 Furious, which kept the series alive without star Vin Diesel thanks to a $236 million worldwide gross.
Over the last few years, Singleton drifted into prestige TV, directing episodes of Empire and American Crime Story, and as executive producer of FX’s Snowfall and BET’s Rebel.
Even if Singleton had retired after Boyz n the Hood, his legacy was assured with that one movie, a movie that has lost none of its power 28 years later. Few movies are as effective at transporting you to a time and place, of taking you on a harrowing and hopeful tour of a subculture that looks, feels, and sounds (those helicopters) as real as it gets.
The story itself is also a timeless one. Of course Boyz n the Hood is political, but it is not partisan or anti-anything. We can all relate to its themes about the importance of fatherhood and taking responsibility, about what it means to come of age, to be a man, and to be your own man.
Fishburne’s Furious Styles is one of the all-time great screen dads.
When you lose an artist at such a young age, you also lose whatever was next. In Singleton’s case, we lost whatever was next for the next 25 years. Boyz n the Hood was a legitimate game changer, time has proven it to be a legitimate masterpiece, and Singleton was way too young to die… Way too young.
CORRECTION: This article originally cited news reports from Fox and CBS affiliates that Singleton had passed away. The article has been updated to reflect that he remained in a coma and has since passed away.