Eichinger died aged 61 of a heart attack while having dinner with friends and family in Los Angeles, his PR agent Just Publicity announced. Among his dinner companions were his wife Katja, 38 and daughter Nina, 29.
He was a powerful figure in German and Hollywood filmmaking. His unexpected death prompted a flood of condolences and expressions of respect.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the nation was “losing a great German filmmaker and producer who has made his mark on the international film industry like few others.”
Representative of the Federal Government for Culture, Bernd Neumann said he was “deeply shocked” by Eichinger’s unexpected death.
“Bernd Eichinger was a true giant of film – nationally and internationally successful as a writer, director and producer. He has made an enduring impression on film in the past few decades like no one else in Germany.”
Eichinger formed his own production company, Solaris Film, in the 1970s and helped make early films by German directors Wim Wenders and Wolfgang Petersen.
In 1979, Eichinger became director of Constantin, which was then a struggling company but has since become one of Germany’s most important production and distribution houses.
His production credits include Petersen’s fantasy film for children, “The Neverending Story,” as well as “The Name of the Rose,” the medieval mystery based on an Umberto Eco novel, “Downfall,” the film depicting the last 10 days in Adolf Hitler’s bunker (which he also co-wrote) and the video-game based horror series, “Resident Evil.”
He both produced and co-wrote the Oscar-nominated film, “The Baader-Meinhof Complex,” which told the story of the militant leftist group, the Red Army Faction, which created a reign of terror in West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.
Other successful German films in which Eichinger was involved include ”Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” a thriller based on a Patrick Süskind novel, and ”Christiane F.”, the tale of a West Berlin heroin addict.
Eichinger rejected criticism – including that from Wim Wenders – of “Downfall” for its relatively neutral portrayal of Adolf Hitler, which some viewers felt was not sufficiently condemnatory of the dictator.
“There is no such thing as telling the truth and not taking everything into consideration,” Eichinger said. “Otherwise you are a Stalinist with one view of things. You burn what doesn’t fit your position or put it into the archives because you want to show only bad and good. When I wrote this script, for me the important thing was to show the grey.”