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

Camille Rivera
June 17, 2017

John Avildsen, the Oscar-winning director whose blockbuster films like Rocky and The Karate Kid championed the ascent of underdogs, has died.

Avildsen's son Anthony said his father died on Friday in Los Angeles from pancreatic cancer.

Avildsen's definitive work came in 1976 when he introduced moviegoers to an upstart boxer named Rocky Balboa.

Avildsen also won the DGA Award for directing "Rocky", which also won Oscars for best picture and film editing and was nominated in multiple other categories.

The 1984 film tells the story of a teenager hounded by bullies, who learns karate from a Japanese handyman and takes on his bully in a karate contest - and wins.

Surprisingly, Avildsen only took the job because he didn't get funding for another movie he was set to direct, he said in an interview in 2000, "My friend sent me this ("Rocky") script and got me to read it, And on the third page, this guy is talking to his turtles, and I was hooked. He makes you feel good about what you're doing".

He also had his share of career setbacks, directing some clunkers and being fired as director of 1970s classics Saturday Night Fever and Serpico because of disputes with producers. In a public statement, the Directors Guild of America wrote, "Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans". "He was super talented and very driven and very stubborn and that was to his detriment but also often to his benefit", Avildsen told The Associated Press. 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.

Avildsen received another Oscar nomination in 1983 for directing the documentary short Traveling Hopefully. "And the opposite would be too depressing". He is survived by daughter Bridget and sons Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley, reported Variety.

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