Director John Avildsen dies at 81; won Oscar for 'Rocky'

Tina Ray
June 17, 2017

John G. Avildsen won an Academy Award for Best Director for Rocky, over a spectacular list of nominees including Ingmar Bergman, Sidney Lumet, Alan J. Pakula and Lina Wertmuller.

Avildsen had been suffering pancreatic cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his son, Anthony, said by phone.

Avildsen took a chance on Rocky, written by and starring the then-unknown Sylvester Stallone as a struggling boxer.

The 1976 film became a phenomenon that won Oscars for best picture as well as for Avildsen as director.

The franchise, The Karate Kid (1984), which starred Pat Morita as an Okinawan martial arts master who agrees to teach karate to a bullied teenager, brought in nearly a quarter-billion dollars at the Box Office.

In 2006 Variety interviewed Avildsen, who said that a film with a boxing story didn't excite him at first, but he was "moved by the urban character study of Sylvester Stallone's script". A few years later, he would direct Jack Lemmon to a Best Actor Oscar with 1973's Save the Tiger. In a statement, his son Anthony Avildsen described him as an extraordinary man who was super talented and very stubborn, which was like a double-edged quality about him.

"Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans", Paris Barclay, president of the Directors Guild of America, said in a statement.

"It's better not to be doing something you don't want to do", Avildsen told the Los Angeles Times after he left the project. Any filmmaker telling a tale of an underdog who gets their shot, or even just a story of personal redemption, or heck, a a movie in which people play sports, has watched Rocky and paid close attention. To me, that is good drama.

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, John G. Avildsen launches his Hollywood career as an assistant to directors Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger (themselves both three-time Oscar nominees). "And the opposite would be too depressing". Coyle reported from NY.

Other reports by TheDigitalNewspaper

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