Today sees the tragic passing of Academy Award winner John G. Avildsen. According to Variety, the Rocky and The Karate Kid helmer has passed away at age 81, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his four children.
Born in Oak Park, Illinois, John G. Avildsen launched his Hollywood career as an assistant to directors Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger (themselves both three-time Oscar nominees). Avildsen made his directorial debut with the 1970 drama Joe, starring Peter Boyle. A few years later, he would direct Jack Lemmon to a Best Actor Oscar with 1973’s Save the Tiger. (Save the Tiger was Lemmon’s second and final Oscar win, having previously won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1955’s Mister Roberts).
It was with 1976’s Rocky, however, that John G. Avildsen would truly make a name for himself. The boxing drama took home three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing. Rocky also launched a franchise that has seen six big screen sequels. Avildsen even returned to direct Rocky V in 1990.
Rocky wasn’t Avildsen’s only underdog story that became a major franchise. He not only directed 1984 original The Karate Kid but returned for two sequels: The Karate Kid Part IIin 1986 and The Karate Kid Part III in 1989.
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. His final feature as a director was 1999’s Inferno, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The actioner also reunited Avildsen with Karate Kid franchise star Pat Morita.
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