Bruce Brown, the creator/director of On Any Sunday – inarguably the best motorcycle racing film ever made – passed yesterday in his sleep at home in Santa Barbara, California. He was 80 years old. His previous film, 1966's The Endless Summer, brought the world of surfing to a similarly wide audience around the world.
READ MORE: On Any Sunday (1971) - Moto Movie Review
“At the time, surfers were considered losers,” Brown told the Orange County Register in 2014. “You didn’t want to tell anyone you were a surfer. (The film) showed the general public we were good guys.”
“With Bruce Brown and his inspiring movies an era comes to an end! His legacy lives on with all of us that continue to carry his torch,” read a post on his website today.
Brown released his first film, Slippery When Wet, in 1958. His next efforts, Surf Crazy, Barefoot Adventures, and others were shown in high school auditoriums throughout California. Brown would narrate the films live for the young audiences. With the release of The Endless Summer and the “search for the perfect wave,” surfers and would-be surfers everywhere were gratified and encouraged by the artful portrayal of the sport. In addition to California, Brown and his team captured dramatic scenes in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
During pre-production for On Any Sunday, Brown was searching for funding when he was introduced to actor Steve McQueen. Brown had always been a fan of McQueen, but hadn’t met him. When he did, knowing McQueen was an avid motorcyclist, he explained the film project. McQueen asked what he could do to help, and Brown said money would help.
“I work in films,” McQueen said. “I don’t finance them.”
Brown replied that if the actor wanted to be in the movie, he’d have to pay for it. McQueen agreed, and the rest is history. The narrative, voiced by Brown in his humorous, laid-back style, followed the season of National Champion Mert Lawwill, with cameo appearances by off-road master Malcolm Smith and McQueen himself.
“What can I say,” said filmmaker Todd Huffman. “Bruce Brown gave millions the spark they needed to discover motorcycling as a way of life. Some of us just the reinforcement to applaud and say 'yeah, that's what we like to do'. I got to interview him once and it was a real thrill. Hard to believe I was actually sitting with him. Then years later getting On Any Sunday-The Next Chapter off the ground and becoming an Executive Producer on it. Wow. Surf in Peace Mr. Brown.”
Brown’s oldest son, Dana, was 11 when the original film came out. He went on to make several of his own surfing features, and the recent sequel, On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter.
"Certain people are so fond of the original, it’s a little sacrilegious to do this,” he said. “I wish it could be judged on its own merits. I’m not trying to replace ‘On Any Sunday’ or make it better. I’m just trying to make something worthy of its name.”