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Eminem is paying tribute to his “8 Mile” director Curtis Hanson, who died Tuesday at age 71.

"Curtis Hanson believed in me and our crazy idea to make a rap battle movie set in Detroit,” Eminem said in a statement released early Wednesday. “He basically made me into an actor for ‘8 Mile.’ I'm lucky I got to know him."

Hanson won an Oscar for screenwriting for 1997’s “L.A. Confidential,” which he also directed. His other films included “Wonder Boys,” with Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire, “The River Wild” with Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep and “In Her Shoes” with Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette.

Hanson, a native of Reno, Nevada, who grew up in Los Angeles, began screenwriting and directing in the early 1970s, but didn’t see serious success until directing the 1992 psychological thriller “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” The film, starring Rebecca De Mornay as a revenge-seeking nanny, became a major hit.

His biggest commercial hit came with “8 Mile,” which in 2002 grossed $116 million. At the time, its $51 million opening marked the second biggest opening of all-time for an R-rated movie.

The Detroit-set saga starred Eminem and was loosely based on his life story as a hard-scrabble rapper coming up in the city.

In a 2002 interview with Rolling Stone, Hanson praised the work of Eminem, who made his starring debut in the film, and said he envisioned “8 Mile” as more than a hip-hop movie.

"I saw, in the original script, an opportunity to deal with themes that I think about and mean a lot to me," said Hanson, who dropped out of high school to become a photographer. “People — young people in this case — trying to figure out how to lead their lives in a society where the traditional sign posts are either not there or barely legible, racial relations in our country, and the way in which art — in this case hip-hop — allows and enables people to emotionally connect in a way that they are able to transcend their circumstances. Then, you combine that with Detroit, this city that once promised a future to literally anyone and has gone through times where it's struggling to find its way in the same way that our characters are, and it was an unbelievably potent opportunity."

Hanson died of natural causes, an L.A. police spokesman said. No further details were available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

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