Mike deGruy, an acclaimed cinematographer with a love of the sea who created several Nature documentaries on PBS, was killed Feb. 4 in a helicopter crash in Australia. He was 60.
His employer, National Geographic Society, said that deGruy and Australian television writer-producer Andrew Wight crashed after takeoff near Nowra, 97 miles north of Sydney. Australia’s ABC News reported that Wight was piloting the helicopter.
Fred Kaufman, head of Nature at WNET in New York, told Current that he still remembers his first meeting with deGruy. “Twenty years ago, when I became the executive producer of Nature, Mike’s film Incredible Suckers, was my first commission,” he said, “and I learned something very valuable from my initial conversation with Mike — bring your ‘A’ game, because Mike was smart, persuasive and quick. He had an answer for every question, he did his homework, and if you had an opinion, you’d better be prepared to defend it.”
Kaufman met deGruy in 1991 at the first Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in Wyoming to discuss Incredible Suckers. “Mike never talked softly,” Kaufman said, “and. sitting in the lobby of the Snow King Resort, he was all energy and optimism — a Mike deGruy trademark we would all come to know and admire. He was good-looking, charismatic, passionate and persuasive. It was no wonder that he went from marine biologist to award-winning filmmaker to successful on-camera presenter.”
DeGruy worked on several films over the years for Nature, including Lost World of the Medusa, Hawaii: Island of the Fire Goddess, The Octopus Show and Live from the Abyss.
“The one thing these films all had in common was Mike’s love of the deep and his passion to share it,” Kaufman said. “In fact, remembering Mike, I cannot think of anyone else who so loved the life they were living. He had a wonderful wife and partner in Mimi. Their two terrific kids, Max and Frances, had the coolest dad ever. He got to travel the world and speak on behalf of the issues facing our oceans — and he piloted submersibles and explored the seas with a boyish enthusiasm that captured our hearts.”
DeGruy, who lived with his family in Santa Barbara, Calif., won multiple Emmy and BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards for cinematography. He was an accomplished diver and submersible pilot, and director of undersea photography for James Cameron’s 2005 documentary Last Mysteries of the Titanic.
“Mike was the bright light that pierced the inky darkness of the deep,” Kaufman said. “He was our leader into the abyss. I will think of him often and remember him always.”
The family suggests donations to Santa Barbara Middle School (sbms.org), Heal the Ocean (healtheocean.org) or Mobile Bay Keeper (mobilebaykeeper.org).
A memorial service took place Feb. 12 at the DoubleTree Resort, Plaza del Sol, Santa Barbara, Calif.