Man Behind Highest-Grossing IMAX Documentary Has Died

David Breashears, 68, brought moviegoers everywhere to Everest's peak
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2024 10:35 AM CDT
Man Behind Highest-Grossing IMAX Documentary Has Died
Mountaineer, filmmaker, and author David Breashears while filming the IMAX documentary “Everest” that premiered in 1998. Breashears, 68, died on Thursday, March 14, 2024, at his home in Marblehead, Mass.   (Arcturus Motion Pictures, Inc. via AP)

David Breashears didn't just make it to Everest's peak five times: He brought the masses to it. The man behind 1998's Everest, which remains the highest-grossing IMAX documentary ever, died last Thursday at his Massachusetts home. He was 68. The New York Times reports that a rep for the family says Breashears' cause of death hasn't been determined.

After establishing an unrelenting taste for climbing in the West in his youth, Breashears tried and failed to summit Everest a few times in the early 1980s, finally making it to the top in 1983. Of his first successful summits, his most pivotal happened in 1996, when he and his team brought a specially built IMAX camera with them. Three standout details from his life and the film, which he co-directed and co-produced, per the AP; it grossed more than $128 million:

  • That climb came just days after a blizzard struck Everest, killing eight climbers in an ordeal that was captured by Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air. Krakauer says that as the rescue effort was being mounted, Breashears offered searchers his gear, including oxygen tanks and food. "He said take it all; he risked the whole film," Krakauer said. "This was the most important thing in his life, and he said it was no big deal."
  • In that 1996 climb, Breashears was accompanied by Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the son of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who along with Edmund Hillary was the first ever to summit the mountain in 1953. The younger Norgay had never made it to the top, and his quest to do so was a through line of the film.
  • In addition to Everest, Breashears' cinematography credits included overseeing and filming the stunts for 1993's Cliffhanger starring Sylvester Stallone. He smuggled a camera into Tibet in violation of Chinese regulations while filming 1997's Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt.
(More obituary stories.)

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