Last year, internationally renown movie poster artist Bruce Eagle passed away. His final years were turbulent. He was destitute and suffering from poor health, but that didn’t stop him from producing one final painting.
You might not recognize his name, but you will certainly recognize his work. Bruce Eagle, a native Oklahoman, produced some of the most popular works of art in the twentieth century. He is best known for the posters he created for Disney films during the 1990s such as “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin” and the “Lion King”. He also created one of the most iconic symbols in the movie universe for the “Batman” (Tim Burton, 1989) starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton.
Eagle’s work for Hollywood is second only to that of Drew Struzan, one of Eagle’s own personal favorites in the field. And while the Oklahoma-born painter’s achievements brought him a degree of notoriety and prosperity most artists only dream of, his story is one that ended tragically.
Born with diabetes, Eagle had managed his disease well throughout most of his life. This was achieved to a large extent due to his success as an artist which enabled him to benefit from costly treatments. But as Hollywood entered the twenty-first century, the industry shifted away from using masters specializing in hand-painted works for digital artists who worked much more quickly and much cheaper. A purist, Eagle refused to move to the electronic medium and, within only a few years, found himself in poverty.
After returning to Oklahoma, Eagle was taken in by a self-styled “agent” named Mike Madison. Madison, a recovering drug-addict who claims to have squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars he earned in the publishing industry due to his cocaine habit, promised to get Eagle back in the art game. After producing a number of works for local companies and non-profits with Madison’s help, Eagle continued to find himself struggling for basics. Later, it was revealed that Madison had stolen several works of art produced by Eagle while claiming that he could sell them. In addition, Madison embezzled tens of thousands of dollars in payments due to the artist.
In 2013, the high cost of Eagle’s diabetic treatments rose exponentially causing the painter to have to be more economical in his use of diabetic test strips while switching to less effective medications and insulin. Within three months, Bruce Eagle was dead. But he continued working through his final months producing several pieces of art including a unique portrait of Bonnie Parker of the famous Bonnie & Clyde duo who led the marauding Barrow Gang during the 1930s. Today, this work and several others are owned by an unnamed collector who is planning to display Eagle’s paintings, beautiful sketches and several film transparencies of early drafts of Eagle’s most famous movie poster art in the coming years.