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

Rocky’ and ‘Karate Kid’ director John G. Avildsen dead at age 81

The 81-year-old died after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

"He was a pretty extraordinary man in my estimation".

Also known for helming films like "Rocky V" (1990), "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings" (1975), "Neighbors" (1981), "Lean on Me" (1989), and "8 Seconds" (1994), Avildsen was the subject of a documentary, John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs, that premiered this year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Avildsen also knew zero about boxing.

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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". It was a box-office failure and got a bad response from critics. How may times have we seen someone trying their best crane technique from the end of The Karate Kid? 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. It was nominated for seven other Oscars. His iconic "Rocky", which won the DGA Feature Film Award in 1976, has been lionized throughout our culture as the quintessential underdog story - a recurring theme in his notable body of work which included "Save the Tiger" and "The Karate Kid" franchise.

The filmmaker also directed the box-office victor The Karate Kid. An all-rounder, Avildsen was also a cinemtographer and editor. Lemmon won the Oscar as best actor while Jack Gilford received a supporting-actor nomination. Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans.

He came from a humble background and even worked in the Army.

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

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