Prolific Hallmark Producer Dies in His Sleep: ‘Our Hearts Are Heavy’

producer death

Heavy Longtime Hallmark movie producer Jonathan Axelrod is dead at 74.

Studio executive, producer, and screenwriter Jonathan Axelrod has died at age 74, Variety reported on June 18, 2024. Responsible for producing over two dozen Hallmark movies during his career, including Mariah Carey‘s directorial debut, Axelrod died in his sleep on June 13, the outlet said.

Axelrod’s ex-wife, director Katy Garretson, reported his death to Variety and shared the news on Facebook in a touching and lengthy post, revealing that Axelrod died unexpectedly after six months of serious health challenges that she thought he was rebounding from.

“Only a few of you know what’s been going on the past six months, but it’s time to share, and it’s not good news, sorry,” Garretson began, before sharing details of Axelrod’s final days, and receiving condolences from many Hollywood insiders who clearly loved Axelrod when he was at his best.

Jonathan Axelrod’s Ex-Wife Says He Fought Many ‘Demons’ Throughout His Career & Overdosed in December 2023

The son of famed screenwriter George Axelrod, who wrote classic movies including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Bus Stop,” and the godson of legendary actress Lauren Bacall, according to Garretson’s Facebook post, Axelrod grew up around filmmaking but made a name for himself in television.

In the 90s, he served as executive producer of several successful series including “Can’t Hurry Love” and “Dave’s World.” In 2012, Axelrod executive produced his first Hallmark movie — “The Music Teacher” starring Annie Potts, per IMDb — and it kickstarted a jam-packed few years of bringing Hallmark stories to life.

Among the rom-coms and Christmas movies he produced were Carey’s “A Christmas Melody” in 2013, which co-starred Lacey Chabert and Brennan Elliott; two “Murder She Baked” movies with Alison Sweeney, “Coming Home For Christmas” starring Danica McKellar, and 16 “Garage Sale Mysteries” movies starring Lori Loughlin.

But working on feel-good movies didn’t always translate into Axelrod feeling good himself, according to Garretson. In her Facebook post, she revealed that the producer struggled on and off with addiction, which ultimately undermined their marriage.

“In December, my ex-husband, Jonathan Axelrod, overdosed,” she revealed in her June 13 Facebook post. “He’s been in a brain rehab and then a nursing care facility since and would never live on his own again. On June 24th, he was to move to New Mexico to live with his son Sam and Sam’s wife and new baby, Jonathan’s granddaughter.”

Sharing that she visited Axelrod the week prior, Garretson said that “surprisingly, based on his condition the last time I visited, we had an incredibly lovely visit this time.”

She continued, “He was, mentally, finally his old self again – the really good self, without his vices and demons, and I think for both of us, it brought back memories of all the good times we shared before and when we were married. I’m so very, very grateful for last week’s visit. Sam said he also had a great conversation yesterday with his dad, and to both of us, it seemed like Jonathan was looking forward to the future. Sam and I both were almost surprised at his improvement – he had that old twinkle & charm back.”

Garretson then wrote, “Sadly, very sadly, Jonathan passed away in his sleep last night.”

“Jonathan was a passionate man who loved people,” she continued, “and he swept me off my feet when we met. In my humble opinion, he and I also had the best wedding ever, and it still makes me sad we ultimately split. Those demons of his…”

According to Deadline, prior to Axelrod’s marriage to Garretson, he was also married to model/actress Shelley Smith and actress Illeana Douglas, who’s appeared in Hallmark movies including 2023’s “Made For Each Other.” Axelrod’s son, Samuel, lives in New Mexico with his wife and daughter, Deadline reported, and Axelrod had planned to visit him within a matter of days.

Hallmark Movie Alums Offer Condolences & Reflections After Jonthan Axelrod’s Death

Garretson’s tribute and description of what happened with Axelrod in his final months drew many condolences and kind comments from Hollywood insiders.

Longtime Hallmark director Ron Oliver, who the L.A. Times nicknamed “Mr. Christmas Movie” in 2021, wrote, “JA came along at the perfect moment and changed my life. I loved him and always knew the feeling was mutual. His warmth and humor and passion for our art form knew no bounds, and his presence in our world made it a better place in so many ways. So many memories and so much laughter and joy. Our hearts are heavy today. Love to you Katy and his family and all his many many friends.”

Actress Annie Potts, who just wrapped eight seasons of the hit show “Young Sheldon” on CBS, wrote, “Oh Katy, Im so sorry to hear this. Sending you much love.”

Holly Atchison, who worked with Axelrod as a script supervisor on many Hallmark movies, per IMDb, commented, “Worked with him many times!!!!! Love ❤️ 😍 💖 to you Katy !!!! He is in a peaceful place now!!!!”

Phoef Sutton, who wrote and executive produced the last two seasons of Hallmark’s “Chesapeake Shores,” per IMDb, offered his condolences by writing, “I’m so sorry Katy. (He) was such a big presence in my life; in so many lives. I hope he knew that. My thoughts are with you.”

According to Garretson’s post, a celebration of Axelrod’s life will be held in New York in the near future.