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

John G. Avildsen, 'Rocky,' 'The Karate Kid' Director, Dead at 81

A rep confirmed his death. Sylvester Stallone famously wrote and starred in the greatest underdog movie ever told, but it was the humanist director of Joe and Save the Tiger who brought the film to vivid life on camera, and imbued what could have been a simple melodrama with powerful realism. In 1983, he got an Oscar nomination for his documentary Traveling Hopefully.

John Avildsen died today.

Avildsen directed the box-office victor The Karate Kid, released in 1984, as well as The Karate Kid Part II in 1986 and The Karate Kid Part III in 1989.

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

He served on the DGA's National Board for three terms, on the DGA's Eastern Directors Council from 1977-1990, on the Western Directors Council from 1992-1994, and was a member of the 1987 and 1996 DGA Negotiating Committees.

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The film was a remake of and a self-conscious tribute to Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's film "Yojimbo". It was his first success as a director, and was praised for Peter Boyle's performance.

After "Joe", Avildsen directed "Save the Tiger" (1973) starring Jack Lemmon as a burned-out dress manufacturer. The director of the inspirational dramas Rocky, The Karate Kid and Lean On Me has died at the age of 81.

John Guilbert Avildsen was born in 1935 in Oak Park, IllInois, the son of a tool manufacturer. He graduated from the prestigious Hotchkiss School and NYU. Soon, he went on to assist veteran directors like Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger. Avildsen returned to direct just one of his original film's six sequels, Rocky V. Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, George C. Scott, and Marlon Brando all passed in front of Avildsen's camera over the next few years, but films like Neighbors, The Formula, and Slow Dancing In The Big City failed to attract either critical love or box office success.

Avildsen is survived by his sons Jonathan, Ashley and Anthony, and daughter Bridget.

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