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


Avildsen's son Anthony said his father died on Friday in Los Angeles from pancreatic cancer. The movie also won Best Picture and starred Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the screenplay, as a struggling boxer who unexpectedly gets a shot at a title fight. It seems Avildsen was not keen on directing sequels of both Rocky and The Karate Kid as he felt he could not do justice to the first film.

The Karate Kid, which had its premiere in 1984, is the story of a teenager who outwits bullies and becomes a karate champion with the help of his martial arts mentor. "He changed my life and I will be forever indebted to him", Stallone said in a statement.

It's been noted that the director who gave us two of the most cherished underdog sagas in American movies remained, to the end, something of an underdog himself.

Jack Lemmon won his only Best Actor Oscar under Avildsen's guidance, for his role in 1973 film Save the Tiger, about a businessman having a midlife crisis. When he was offered the director's chair for Rocky Part II, though, Avildsen turned it down; he later called that decision "one of my greatest mistakes". In 2016, directed Derek Wayne Johnson made a documentary on Avildsen's life and career. He graduated from the prestigious Hotchkiss School and NYU.

Avildsen's credits also include Joe, Save the Tiger, Lean on Me and Neighbors. Avildsen intended for the Rocky character to die in the film but studio bosses disagreed.

Avildsen worked as a cinematographer from the mid '60s to the early '70s, lensing seven films, including his feature directorial debut Turn on to Love (1969). For over 40 years, the enduring classic underdog story about an every man overcoming all odds defined generations of moviegoers. To me, that is good drama.

John G. Avildsen was born Oak Park, Illinois, on December 21st, 1935. "And the opposite would be too depressing". Avildsen is survived by his daughter, Bridget, and sons Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley.