John G. Avildsen, who won an Oscar for directing the iconic Rocky and also helmed all three Karate Kid movies, has passed away at 81. While no cause of death was revealed, the director’s representative confirmed his death in Los Angeles today. The filmmaker leaves behind a lasting legacy of telling some of the best underdog stories ever put on film.
Variety confirmed the director’s death with his rep earlier today, although no further details were given. It hasn’t been revealed yet if there will be any sort of public memorial service for the filmmaker. The man was born December 21 1935, in Oak Park, Illinois, USA, graduating from the prestigious Hotchkiss School and NYU. He got his start in the movie business by serving as assistant director on movies helmed by Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger.
The late filmmaker made his feature directorial debut in 1969 with Turn To Love, which he also served as the cinematographer on. He also worked in several different areas on other films, writing the scripts for movies such as Cry Uncle and OK Bill, which he also directed, serving as a cinematographer on Out of It, Cry Uncle, OK Bill and The Stoolie and even serving as the editor of several movies including all three Karate Kid movies that he directed. He kept working in the early 1970s by directing his first big hit Joe, starring Susan Sarandon, Save the Tiger in 1972 with Jack Lemon and a pair of 1975 movies, Foreplay and W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, before directing Rocky, which won him his first and only Academy Award.
The filmmaker was slated to direct the follow-up Rocky II, although he held out on directing the sequel in lieu of taking another project. Sylvester Stallone would end up directing Rocky II himself, along with Rocky III and Rocky IV, before John G. Alvidsen returned to the Rocky franchise by directing Rocky V in 1990. The late director would direct seven actors to Oscar nominees, including Rocky stars Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith and Talia Shire, The Karate Kid star Pat Morita and Save the Tiger stars Jack Lemon, who won the Oscar for his portrayal of Harry Stoner, and Jack Gilford.
After Rocky, John G. Avildsen directed Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978) starring Paul Sorvino, The Formula (1980) starring George C. Scott and Marlon Brando, Neighbors (1981) starring John Belushi and A Night in Heaven (1983) starring Lesley Ann Warren, before his blockbuster The Karate Kid became a worldwide sensation in 1984. He returned to direct The Karate Kid II in 1986, followed by Happy New Year in 1987, starring Peter Falk, For Keeps in 1988 starring Molly Ringwald and two hits in 1989, Lean On Me, starring Morgan Freeman and The Karate Kid III. He also directed The Power of One in 1992, 8 Seconds with Luke Perry in 1994, A Fine and Private Place in 1998 and Inferno in 1999 starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. According to IMDB, the filmmaker was in pre-production on his first film in nearly 20 years entitled Nate and Al, which has Richard Dreyfus, Josh Peck and Martin Landau attached to star. The filmmaker is survived by his four children, daughter Bridget, and sons Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley.