The Devastating Death Of George Butler
The world of documentary filmmaking world lost a legend following the news of filmmaker George Butler’s death. Butler, who made his directing debut with the 1977 bodybuilding documentary “Pumping Iron,” died on October 21 at the age of 78 from pneumonia, per Variety. His longtime partner, Caroline Alexander, confirmed his death to the outlet.
Born on October 12, 1943, Butler traveled around as a child and spent time before attending the Groton School, a boarding school in Massachusetts. After graduation, the young Butler matriculated at the University of North Carolina and later attended grad school at Hollins University in Virginia. Hollins celebrated the director on their official website during the school’s 175th anniversary in 2017.
Butler began his career as a photographer, working for notable outlets Life Magazine and The Village Voice. He also co-edited and contributed to a photographic essay book called “The New Soldier” (via Amazon). Among the book’s credited authors is John Kerry, whom Butler would work with again later in his career.
Butler moved from photography to documentaries in the '70s
George Butler began covering men’s bodybuilding competitions in the early 1970s as part of his assignments as a photographer, which led to him contributing pictures to the 1974 book “Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding” (per Goodreads). He received co-author credit alongside writer Charles Gaines on the book and jumped into directing with a documentary adaptation of the book in 1977. Butler co-directed the doc, also called “Pumping Iron,” with Robert Fiore (via IMDb ). The film is famous for featuring then-unknown bodybuilders Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. Both would go on to have successful Hollywood careers in film and television.
Butler remained in documentary filmmaking for the rest of his life, taking on solo directing duties for his follow-up film “Pumping Iron II: The Women” in 1985 (IMDb). The documentary is adapted from another book he worked on with Gaines titled “Pumping Iron II — The Unprecedented Woman” (via Goodreads), which looks at women’s bodybuilding competitions. He went on to make “The Endurance” in 2000 (per IMDb), which recounts Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition, and which drew from the book “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition,” written by Caroline Alexander (per Goodreads).
The filmmaker also re-teamed with John Kerry in 2004 for the documentary “Going Upriver.” Per the movie’s IMDb profile, the film chronicles Kerry’s time in the Vietnam War and his subsequent involvement in the peace movement. “Going Upriver” also deals with Kerry’s long political career that led to him becoming a Presidential candidate in the 2004 US election.
Schwarzenegger paid tribute to Butler
Arnold Schwarzenegger posted a tribute to George Butler on his Twitter page, crediting Butler’s documentary for his success in Hollywood and praising the director’s skills as a photographer and the passion he carried for bodybuilding throughout his life. “‘Pumping Iron,’ the book and the movie, drew the general public into our strange little niche sport and brought fitness — and this Austrian with an unpronounceable name and a funny accent — to the masses,” Schwarzenegger wrote at one point.
He continued, “I was saddened to hear the news of George’s passing. He was such a talent, he had a fantastic eye, and he was a force for the sport of bodybuilding and the fitness crusade. My thoughts are with his family.” Schwarzenegger also attached a picture of himself with Gaines and Butler from the film’s production in the tweet.
Butler’s last documentary, 2015 “Tiger Tiger,” is about the preservation of tigers in South Asia and the efforts of conservationist Dr. Alan Rabinowitz to that end, according to the movie’s IMDb profile. He directed and produced the film.