Penelope Spheeris

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Penelope Spheeris
Penelope Spheeris, 1984
Spheeris in 2013
Born (1945-12-02) December 2, 1945 (age 77) or (1946-12-02) December 2, 1946 (age 76) (sources differ)
Occupation(s)Film director, film producer, screenwriter
Years active1968–present
ChildrenAnna Fox
RelativesJimmie Spheeris (brother)
Chris Spheeris (cousin)
Costa-Gavras (cousin)

Penelope Spheeris (born December 2, 1945 or 1946; sources differ)[1][2][3][4] is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. She has directed both documentary and scripted films. Her best-known works include the trilogy titled The Decline of Western Civilization, each covering an aspect of Los Angeles underground culture,[5] and Wayne's World, her highest-grossing film.[6]

Early life[edit]

Spheeris was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her Greek-immigrant father owned the Magic Empire Shows carnival and was a side-show strong man. Her mother, of Irish heritage, was raised in Kansas and later worked as a ticket taker for the carnival. Her father was 40 years old and her mother was 19 when they began a relationship.[1][7] Spheeris has three full siblings, plus a number of older half-siblings from her father's first marriage.[8] She is a sister of singer Jimmie Spheeris[9] and a first cousin of musician Chris Spheeris,[9] and Greek-French director Costa Gavras,[9] which she says has made her consider that a genetic component exists to her vocation.[9]

Spheeris told author Paul Stenning, "I believe each of us is born with certain characteristics that we genetically inherit, some of which are good, some not so good. My mother was extremely compassionate, my father more of a barbarian. My father was passionately ambitious, where my mother was not. The most significant traits I learned from my parents were a strong sense of survival and unfaltering tenacity."[10]

Spheeris spent her first seven years traveling around the American South and American Midwest with her father's carnival.[11] Her father was shot and killed in Troy, Alabama, after intervening in a racial dispute. In a 2015 interview, Spheeris stated that her father had come to the aid of an African-American man who had been struck on the back of the head with a cane by a white man over a dispute about cutting in front of him in line. The white man soon after returned and stabbed Spheeris' father. She states that her father's killer served no jail time, the man's legal defense apparently resting entirely on the claim that he was justified in murdering Spheeris senior as "he was defending a black."[8]

After her father's death, Spheeris and her three siblings moved with their mother to California, generally living in trailer parks with a succession of stepfathers.[12] She spent her teenaged years in Orange County, graduating from Westminster High School with a daunting 'most likely to succeed' label. After high school, Spheeris attended California State University Long Beach, where she majored in art. She admired the teachings of George Falcon, a behavioral scientist. From his influence, Spheeris went on to study psychobiology at the University of California, Irvine, in Orange County, southeast of Los Angeles.[13]

Working as a waitress at Denny's and IHOP, she put herself through film school. She majored in film and has a master of fine arts degree in theater arts from UCLA.[14]


Spheeris launched her career by producing short subjects for comedian Albert Brooks, many of them being highlights in the first season of the television series Saturday Night Live. Her first feature film was The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), a punk rock documentary that she produced and directed. She followed up with Suburbia in 1983, produced by Roger Corman, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, this time about the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of 1988, with footage and interviews of legendary metal bands such as Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, Megadeth, and Motörhead. She later returned to the streets of Los Angeles and the punk rock scene in 1998 for the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part III. She was offered the chance to direct This is Spinal Tap, but declined.[15]

Spheeris editing her film Dudes, 1986

In addition, she worked as a writer for the television series Roseanne (1988-1997). In the 1990s, she directed Wayne's World, a comedy based on Mike Myers' sketches from Saturday Night Live. The movie grossed over $183 million and became a popular hit. She directed the Wayne's World music video work for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", which earned a Grammy Award nomination.[14] She had difficulty working with Myers, while acknowledging him as "profoundly talented," and in an Entertainment Weekly article stated she believes Myers dissuaded Paramount Pictures from hiring her for the sequel.[16]

In 1996, she directed We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n Roll, a documentary about the Ozzfest, produced by Sharon Osbourne, which explored life on the road.[14]

Other films Spheeris has directed include The Beverly Hillbillies; The Little Rascals (for which she co-wrote the screenplay); the Chris Farley/David Spade comedy Black Sheep; the Marlon Wayans-David Spade team-up Senseless;[14] and The Kid & I starring Tom Arnold.[14] In 2006, she was set to direct the still-unfilmed Gospel According to Janis, about Janis Joplin.[14]

The Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival named Spheeris its guest of honor for 2013.[17]

The moving image collection of Penelope Spheeris is held at the Academy Film Archive.[18] The Academy Film Archive has preserved several of Penelope Spheeris' films, including Bath, Hats Off To Hollywood, and Shit.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Spheeris has a daughter, director Anna Spheeris Fox, born in 1969.[20]

Since September 9, 1998,[21] Spheeris has been in a relationship with a man known as Sin,[22] whom she met while filming the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization III.[23] In a 2015 interview, she revealed that he was in an institution in Florida after he stopped taking his medication (he has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) and ended up in jail.[24] She has described him as the love of her life.[25]

Radio and podcast appearances[edit]

Spheeris appeared on WTF with Marc Maron on June 29, 2015.[26]

She appeared on Ken Reid's TV Guidance Counselor podcast on October 18, 2016.

In December 2021, she appeared on the fourteenth episode of The Ghost of Hollywood, where she discussed her work career in filmmaking, with a focus on Suburbia in particular.[27][28]

An interview with Penelope Spheeris and journalist Barney Hoskyns appeared on the Rock's Backpages web site.[29]


Spheeris work has received recognition from the Directors Guild of America, The Recording Academy, Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, the Chicago International Film Festival, the Chicago Underground Film Festival, the Deep Ellum Film Festival, the LA Femme International Film Festival, the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, the Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, and the Temecula Valley International Film Festival.[30]



Feature films[edit]

Year Title Credited as Notes
Director Producer Writer
1969 Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales Yes Yes No student film
1972 I Don't Know Yes No No short Film
1979 Real Life No Yes No
1984 Suburbia Yes No Yes
1985 The Boys Next Door Yes No No
1986 Hollywood Vice Squad Yes No No
1987 Dudes Yes No No
Summer Camp Nightmare No No Yes
1992 Wayne's World Yes No No
1993 The Beverly Hillbillies Yes Yes No
1994 The Little Rascals Yes No Yes
1996 Black Sheep Yes No No
1998 Senseless Yes No No
2005 The Kid & I Yes Yes No
2011 Balls to the Wall Yes No No


Year Title Credited as
Director Producer Writer
1981 The Decline of Western Civilization Yes Yes Yes
1988 The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years Yes No No
1990 Thunder and Mud Yes No No
Banned in the U.S.A. Yes No No
1998 The Decline of Western Civilization Part III Yes No No
1999 Hollywierd Yes No No
2001 We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n Roll Yes No No

Acting roles[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1969 Naked Angels Shirley
1971 The Ski Bum Star the Witch
1973 Brothers Penny
1974 The Second Coming of Suzanne Margo, Logan's Film Group
1989 Wedding Band Nicky's Mom
1992 Wayne's World uncredited

Unproduced projects[edit]


Year Title Credited as Notes
Director Producer Writer
1975-1976 Saturday Night LIVE! No Yes No 9 episodes
1989-1990 Roseanne No No Yes 24 episodes (story editor)
Episode: "Fender Bender" (writer)
1993 Danger Theatre Yes Yes Yes 3 episodes (director)
7 episodes (executive producer)
5 episodes (writer)
2003 75th Academy Awards Yes Yes No segment "Tribute to Documentaries"
2004 Cracking Up Yes No No Episode: "Prom Night"

TV movies

Year Title Notes
1991 Prison Stories: Women on the Inside Segment "3"
Visitors from the Unknown: UFO Abductions
UFO Abductions: A Global Phenomenon
1998 Applewood 911
2000 Dear Doughboy
2003 The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron
2011 Five Segment "Cheyanne"
2012 The Real St. Nick

Music videos[edit]

Year Title Artist
1987 "Wake Up Dead" Megadeth
1988 "I Did It for Love" Night Ranger
1989 "No More Mr. Nice Guy" Megadeth
1992 "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Wayne's World Version) Queen


Critical, public, and commercial reception to films Spheeris has directed.

Film Rotten Tomatoes[41] Metacritic[42] CinemaScore Budget Box office
The Decline of Western Civilization 100 93
Suburbia 91%
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years 86% 58
Wayne's World 86% 57 A- $20 million $183 million
The Beverly Hillbillies 23% 37 B+ $25 million $57.4 million
The Little Rascals 23% 45 A- $67.3 million
Black Sheep 28% B+ $32.4 million
Senseless 6% 36 B+ $12.8 million
The Decline of Western Civilization - Part III 100% 77
The Kid & I 37


  1. ^ a b "Penelope Spheeris Biography (1945?-)". Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  2. ^ "Penelope Spheeris". British Film Institute. Retrieved December 14, 2016. Born: 1946, New Orleans, Louisiana
  3. ^ "The Punk Director: Penelope Spheeris Revisits Her Decline of Western Civilization Trilogy". Pitchfork.
  4. ^ Kuhn, Annette; Radstone, Susannah, eds. (1994). "Penelope Spheeris (1946– )". The Women's Companion to International Film. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520088795.
  5. ^ "Penelope Spheeris". Woman's Hour. 21 July 2006. BBC. Radio 4. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  6. ^ Diamond, Jamie (April 12, 1992). "FILM; Penelope Spheeris: From Carny Life To 'Wayne's World'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
  7. ^ "WTF with Marc Maron Podcast Marc Maron Comedy Episode 615 Penelope Spheeris 06 29 15". WTF with Marc Maron. Retrieved March 12, 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ a b "Episode 615 - Penelope Spheeris". WTF with Marc Maron. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d "Profile". Archived from the original on 2012-01-19. Retrieved 2015-03-02.
  10. ^ Paul Stenning (November 24, 2013). Success – By Those Who've Made It. p. 72. In Flight Books. ISBN 978-1628475869.
  11. ^ "Penelope Spheeris". Yahoo! Movies. Archived from the original on May 22, 2011.
  12. ^ "Episode 615 - Penelope Spheeris". WTF with Marc Maron. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  13. ^ Paul Stenning (November 24, 2013). Success – By Those Who've Made It. Pg.73. In Flight Books. ISBN 978-1628475869.
  14. ^ a b c d e f "Penelope Spheeris biodata". 2008. Retrieved 2006-11-06.
  15. ^ "Penelope Spheeris interview 2011". 20 July 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2015.
  16. ^ Rottenberg, Josh (June 16, 2008). "Mike Myers: Man of Mystery". Retrieved May 26, 2017. I hated that bastard for years," says Spheeris, who believes Myers dissuaded Paramount from hiring her for Wayne's World 2. "But when I saw Austin Powers, I went, 'I forgive you, Mike.'" She pauses, voice choked with emotion. "'You can be moody, you can be a jerk, you can be things that others of us can't be—because you are profoundly talented. And I forgive you.'
  17. ^ "Interview: Wayne's World director Penelope Spheeris". Retrieved March 2, 2015.
  18. ^ "Penelope Spheeris Collection". Academy Film Archive (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). 20 August 2015. Archived from the original on December 2, 2016. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  19. ^ "Preserved Projects (Penelope Spheeris)". Academy Film Archive (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on August 13, 2016. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  20. ^ Hyden, Steven (23 June 2015). "The Resurrection of 'The Decline of Western Civilization': Director Penelope Spheeris's Definitive L.A. Music Trilogy Is Back". Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  21. ^ "THE LOUDMOUTHS". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  22. ^ "Wayne's World director Penelope Spheeris on leaving Hollywood behind: "They can blow me"". Film. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  23. ^ Friedman, Ann (23 August 2015). "Penelope Spheeris: 'I sold out and took the money'". Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  24. ^ Friedman, Ann (2015-08-23). "Penelope Spheeris: 'I sold out and took the money'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  25. ^ "On The Corner of Lookout and Wonderland: A Profile of Penelope Spheeris in Present Day Los Angeles". MUBI. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  26. ^ "Episode 615 - Penelope Spheeris â€" WTF with Marc Maron Podcast". June 29, 2015. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  27. ^ "Suburbia Revisited with Penelope Spheeris". KBOO. 2021-11-17. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  28. ^ "Season Two". The Ghost of Hollywood. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  29. ^ "AUDIO: Penelope Spheeris (1993)". 1993. Retrieved June 5, 2021.
  30. ^ "Penelope Spheeris". IMDb. Retrieved 2018-06-02.
  31. ^ Chandler, John (2013-03-06). "Q&A: Director Penelope Spheeris". Portland Monthly. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  32. ^ Moss, Corey (April 15, 2004). "Is Pink The Reincarnation Of Janis Joplin? Penelope Spheeris Thinks So". MTV News. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  33. ^ Fleming, Michael (April 1, 2004). "Joplin biopic in the Pink". Variety. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  34. ^ "Deschanel to tell The Gospel According to Janis". September 19, 2006. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  35. ^ "Zooey Deschanel Declares Janis Joplin Biopic "Kind of Dead" – TwentyFourBit". Retrieved 2021-08-14.
  36. ^ Brodesser, Claude; Fleming, Michael (August 29, 2000). "Spheeris set to helm Dimension's 'Closers'". Variety. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  37. ^ Brodesser, Claude (October 13, 2000). "Helmer Spheeris circles 'Posers'". Variety. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  38. ^ "Elston Gunn's WEEKLY RECAP!!! It's Here!!! Really!". Ain't It Cool News. February 18, 2001. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  39. ^ Swanson, Tim; Dunkley, Cathy (October 4, 2001). "Disney digs 'Stuntman' pitch, drafts Sheridan". Variety. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  40. ^ Fleming, Michael (December 5, 1996). "Interscope pays up to 'Blast Off'". Variety. Retrieved August 1, 2022.
  41. ^ "Penelope Spheeris". Retrieved 2018-08-07.
  42. ^ "Penelope Spheeris". Metacritic. Retrieved 2018-08-07.

External links[edit]