Sad news, folks. We’re seeing reports on Facebook that Danny Leiner, the director of the beloved comedies Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Dude, Where’s My Car? has passed away following a long illness.
Leiner got his start with the well-received short films My Birthday Cake and Time Expired, which led him to make his feature debut with the 1996 comedy Layin‘ Low starring Jeremy Piven and Edie Falco. Four years later, he was tapped to direct the Ashton Kutcher–Seann William Scott comedy Dude, Where’s My Car?, where he also worked with a young Jennifer Garner. The film grossed $73 million worldwide on a $13 million budget, proving to be a modest hit for 20th Century Fox, though a much-rumored sequel failed to materialize.
However, the success of Dude led to New Line offering Leiner another stoner movie, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, which spawned two sequels and is likely the film that Leiner will best be remembered for. Harold and Kumar boasted John Cho and Kal Penn as leads long before Hollywood prioritized diversity and inclusivity, and the two proved to have dynamite chemistry together. The subsequent franchise became a major win for representation, with Leiner being a big part of that thanks to his savvy eye for casting.
After a pair of stoner comedies, Leiner was eager to mix things up and spread his wings as a filmmaker. He directed the 2005 dramedy The Great New Wonderful, which weaves together five stories against the backdrop of an anxious and uncertain post-9/11 New York City. He also produced the acclaimed indie films The Architect starring Anthony LaPaglia and Viola Davis, as well as The Young Kieslowski starring Ryan Malgarini and Haley Lu Richardson. The last movie Leiner directed himself was the 2009 comedy Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach, which reunited the filmmaker with his Dude star Seann William Scott.
Leiner was also a prolific television director with credits on such beloved series as Felicity, Party of Five, Gilmore Girls, Freaks and Geeks, The Office, Sports Night and Arrested Development. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but producers like Ted Hope and Ross Putman memorialized Leiner on social media. The latter took to Facebook to pay tribute to his friend and collaborator, writing “If there’s one thing I can say about Danny the professional, it’s that he refused to let us settle for anything less than our best. He pushed us to do what he knew we were capable of. Danny the person was sardonic, sharp, and savvy, with a love for culture and comedy of all kinds. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but the world has lost a good one.”
Leiner was an East Coast guy, and a very sweet man with a wonderful sense of humor. He was one of my very first interviews for Ain’t It Cool News, way back in May 2006. Click here to read our 12-year-old chat, and if you haven’t seen Harold and Kumar in a while, this weekend may be the perfect time to go back and watch it. Rest in peace, Danny. We’ll miss you.