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

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

Variety reports that John G. Avildsen, an Oscar-winning director with a celebrated knack for capturing the stories of beloved underdogs, has died.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Avildsen's eldest son said the director had pancreatic cancer.

Avildsen started out as a cinematographer, and shot his directorial debut, Turn on to Love in 1969. Ironically a documentary spotlighting his career is just about to be released on August 1st, titled John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs, from AJ16 Entertainment and directed by Derek Wayne Johnson.

In the years before Rocky, Avildsen won praise for two dark character studies: Joe (1970) with Peter Boyle and Susan Sarandon and Save the Tiger (1973) starring Jack Lemmon, who won the Academy Award for best actor for the role.

In the 1980s, Avildsen helmed another popular franchise in The Karate Kid, directing the original 1981 film and its two subsequent sequels in 1986 and 1989, to the tune of almost a quarter-billion dollars grossed overall. "His directing, his passion, his toughness and his heart - a great heart - is what made "Rocky" the film it became", Stallone wrote in a statement.

A friend sent Avildsen the "Rocky" script.

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Among John G. Avildsen's other notable credits include 1980's The Formula (starring Marlon Brando and George C. Scott), the 1981 comedy Neighbors (which marked the final performance from the late John Belushi) and the 1989 drama Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman.

Like Rocky, his The Karate Kid earned him both box office success and critical acclaim.

He had been hired to direct Saturday Night Fever after his success with Rocky, but was let go amid differences over his desire to make the story more upbeat than the producers had in mind. In 1983, he got an Oscar nomination for his documentary Traveling Hopefully.

What is your favorite John G. Avildsen film?

In a 1992 interview, Avildsen outlined his view of filmmaking. He has three sons, Jonathan, Ashley and Anthony, and a daughter Bridget.

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