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Wolfgang Petersen, blockbuster filmmaker, dies after cancer battle

“Das Boot” launched Wolfgang Petersen as a filmmaker in Hollywood, where he became one of the top filmmakers of action adventures.

NEW YORK — Wolfgang Petersen, the German filmmaker whose World War II submarine epic “Das Boot” propelled him into a blockbuster Hollywood career that included the films “In the Line of Fire,” “Air Force One” and “The Perfect Storm,” has died. He was 81.

Petersen died Friday at his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood after a battle with pancreatic cancer, said representative Michelle Bega.

Petersen, born in Emden, Germany, made two features before his 1982 breakthrough, “Das Boot.” Then the most expensive movie in German film history, the 149-minute “Das Boot" (the original cut ran 210 minutes) chronicled the intense claustrophobia of life aboard a doomed German U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic, with Jürgen Prochnow as the submarine’s commander. Heralded as an antiwar masterpiece, “Das Boot” was nominated for six Oscars, including for Petersen's direction and his adaptation of Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s best-selling 1973 novel.

To Petersen, who grew up on the northern coast of Germany, the sea long held his fascination. He would return to it in the 2000 disaster film, “The Perfect Storm,” a true-life tale of a fishing boat lost at sea.

Credit: AP
FILE - Actors Mark Wahlberg, left, and George Clooney, center, stars of the film "The Perfect Storm,'' pose with director/producer Wolfgang Petersen at the premiere in Danvers, Mass., on June 28, 2000.

“The power of water is unbelievable," Petersen said in a 2009 interview. “I was always impressed as a kid how strong it is, all the damage the water could do when it just turned within a couple of hours, and smashed against the shore.”

“Das Boot” launched Petersen as a filmmaker in Hollywood, where he became one of the top makers of action adventures of massive cataclysms that spanned war (2004's "Troy," with Brad Pitt), pandemic (the 1995 ebolavirus-inspired "Outbreak") and other ocean-set disasters (2006's “Poseidon," about the capsizing of an ocean liner).

Credit: AP
FILE - Actor Brad Pitt, left, and German director Wolfgang Petersen appear at the world premiere of the film "Troy" in Berlin, Germany, on May 9, 2004.

Petersen is survived by second wife Maria-Antoinette Borgel, a German script supervisor and assistant director whom he wed in 1978, son Daniel Petersen and two grandchildren.

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