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ADV News“On Any Sunday” Director Bruce Brown Dies at Age 80

“On Any Sunday” Director Bruce Brown Dies at Age 80

He changed the world of motorcycling overnight with his revolutionary film.

Published on 12.12.2017

Groundbreaking Filmmaker and AMA Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Brown passed away Sunday December 10th leaving behind an irrefutable legacy. His 1971 masterpiece ‘On Any Sunday’ is widely acknowledged as the incendiary that blew open doors for motorcycling in the 1970’s.

Born and raised in California, Brown was on a surfboard from a young age and immersed in the culture. Upon completing high school, Brown joined the Navy and managed to get stationed in Hawaii during the mid-1950’s surfing heyday. That stroke of luck not only afforded him plentiful surfing opportunities but also saw him shooting his first 8mm movies. After leaving the service in 1957, he worked as a lifeguard back in California until directing his first film (Slippery When Wet) in 1958. Brown’s monumental surfing film ‘The Endless Summer’ was released in 1966 and that project’s success allowed him to focus his lens on another passion: motorcycles.

Bruce Brown On Any Sunday Director
Bruce had his first success in film making with ‘The Endless Summer,’ a documentary about surfing.

Brown’s love affair with motorcycles began in the mid 1960’s on a trip to Japan. Brown and his wife enjoyed riding a rented Honda scooter so much that he purchased a Triumph Cub soon after. Around that time, other surfers that Brown knew were getting engrossed in desert racing and this soon became the case for him as well.


Despite the achievements of The Endless Summer, Brown struggled with financing for his first motorcycle film and sought help in the community. Brown was subsequently introduced to Steve McQueen who had never financed a film but was motivated by Brown’s explanation that if he wanted to be in the movie he would have to pay for it. McQueen agreed to back the project and was a producer as well opening doors that Brown never could have imagined.

Bruce Brown On Any Sunday Director
Your GoPro of the 1960’s. Bruce Brown developed revolutionary filming techniques for the time.

Brown deployed revolutionary filming techniques during the production of On Any Sunday and brought substantial experience from his surfing films. These techniques included using 24-volt batteries in 12-volt film cameras to make ad-hoc high-speed cameras, shooting with long telephoto lenses to capture far-away action up close and strapping cameras on rider’s helmets long before GoPro’s were even dreamed of. He credited his lack of formal training in filmmaking as an advantage allowing him to take risks that would have otherwise been unthought-of.

Released in 1971, On Any Sunday bottled raw emotion that many enthusiasts thought could not be conveyed in a film. Nearly single-handedly, he changed the perception of motorcyclists overnight from gruff Hells Angels to nice guys next door. On Any Sunday seemed to strike a chord with youngsters. Kids would hide in movie theater bathrooms between showings so they could watch the film two or three times in one day. Thousands of kids across the country started saving money from their paper routes and summer jobs to buy a minibike after being inspired by the movie. The films wide spread appeal and popularity were acknowledged with a nomination for an academy award in 1972.

Bruce Brown On Any Sunday Director

Bruce Brown On Any Sunday Director
“I think many people changed their minds about motorcyclists after watching the movie.” – Bruce Brown

Many racers credited the movie with really helping their careers as well. Malcolm Smith, who was also a major focus of the film, credits On Any Sunday with giving him the worldwide recognition that enabled him to become a leading entrepreneur in the off-road motorcycling business.

After his successful film career, Brown moved to a remote ranch north of Santa Barbara where he surfed, rode motorcycles, and raced sprint cars for the rest of his life. Inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1999 Bruce Brown was a true friend to motorcycling and will be sorely missed.

Bruce Brown’s legacy is in good hands though with son Dana Brown, of ‘Dust To Glory’ fame, continuing the family tradition of producing landmark motor sports documentaries.

Photos Courtesy Bruce Brown Films

Author: Spencer Hill

“The Gear Dude” has been fueling his motorcycle addiction with adventure since first swinging his leg over a bike in 2010. Whether he’s exploring his own backyard in the Pacific Northwest or crisscrossing the United States, Spencer is always in search of scenic off-road routes, epic camping locations and the best gear possible. He began writing shortly after taking up two-wheel travel to share his experiences and offer insight with his extensive backpacking, camping and overland background.

Author: Spencer Hill

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RIP Bruce Brown - PNW Moto
December 12, 2017 1:45 pm

[…] "On Any Sunday" Director Bruce Brown Dies at Age 80 – ADV Pulse A man of many talents… […]

david dew
david dew
December 18, 2017 10:55 am

I was one of these kids who saw “On Any Sunday” with my friends countless times.
It is still my favorite movie, riding is still my favorite thing.
R.I.P. and thank you Bruce Brown


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