When Stanley Kubrick passed away in his sleep on March 7th, 1999, his devoted fans were left heartbroken. Aged just 70, and with his latest feature, Eyes Wide Shut, on the verge of finally being released after an extended period suspended in production hell, not only had the world lost one of its greatest-ever auteurs, but one who seemingly had so much more to give.
Eyes Wide Shut had a 15-month shoot planned, and at the time of Kubrick’s death, it had become one of the longest film productions in history, some two-and-a-half years since it had begun. When alive, critics and fans were clung to the question of whether he would ever finish the movie as its production continued to drag on, fearing it would fizzle out, and so when he died, the panic grew exponentially.
Fans speculated that the studio might destroy his project, as it was a story that was all too familiar. Adding to these fears were reports that the director had a clause written into his contract with Warner Bros that his works could only be released when he personally gave the go-ahead and only in the final version he had submitted. This meant that many believed that Eyes Wide Shut was dead in the water and that it would never hit the silver screen, becoming yet another lost film by an esteemed auteur.
Kubrick passed away at 4am on Sunday, March 7th, 1999, but only 12 hours before, he had been his usual energetic self. Sitting at his home, Childwickbury Manor in Hertfordshire, he was wrapped up in the biggest event of the weekend, England’s match against Ireland in the Five Nations Championship, a game that the former eventually won 27-15.
A notorious workaholic, whilst Kubrick was watching the scintillating game of Rugby Union, he was also on the phone to an old friend and colleague, Julian Senior, the senior vice-president of European advertising and publicity at Warner Bros. The call was intended to discuss the poster design for Eyes Wide Shut, which neared completion, but instead, Kubrick was providing Senior with a running commentary on the game, obsessing over the athleticism of England’s scrum-half, Kieran Bracken.
Speaking to The Guardian just after Kubrick’s death, Senior remembered the afternoon with clarity. Watching the rugby, The Warner Bros executive was trying to make the most of his weekend without being pestered by his friend of nearly 20 years: “I kept saying, ‘Stanley, will you go away? I’m trying to watch the rugby too.'”
Senior then confirmed that Kubrick never had a day off, revealing that there was no sign of illness in the run-up to his death. Reflecting the great spirit that the Dr. Strangelove director was in during their call, he even recalled some of his last recorded words, and unsurprisingly, they were about business.
“Stanley did not understand what weekends were,” Senior said. “His work was his life. He was excited about the release of the film. He wanted to talk about the publicity schedule. It was the same voice we’d known for the last 20 years – young, vibrant. He’d had flu a couple of weeks ago, but apart from that, there was no hint of illness. He said: ‘Let’s think about what we’re going to do. Get me a list of the top four or five magazines and the best writers. We’ll do a few interviews’.”
Just before his death, Kubrick had completed an 80-second trailer for Eyes Wide Shut, and it was scheduled to be shown to an audience of 3,000 at ShoWest, the forum for American exhibitors, only a few days later on March 10th.
Turning his attention to the rumours that spread after the news of his friend’s death broke, Senior sought to put them to bed. “The film that will be released is Stanley’s film,” he maintained. “The film is over, the trailer is done, he was working on the poster artwork. We’d even talked about which stills to use for the publicity.”
Closing the book on his account of Stanley Kubrick, Senior said with panache: “Stanley finished with his life less than a week after he finished with his movie. If you’d stood back and written it, people would have laughed.”