John G Avildsen, who directed hugely successful underdog fables Rocky and The Karate Kid, has died at age 81. His son Anthony Avildsen confirmed the news of his death and said that the oscar winning director died of pancreatic cancer.
Avildsen won the Academy Award for Best Picture for Sylvester Stallone-starrer Rocky in 1976. The director of many hit films won the Oscar for "Rocky" in 1977. 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. 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. 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".
He had been hired to direct "Saturday Night Fever" after his success with "Rocky", but was let go amid differences over his desire to make the story more upbeat than the producers had in mind. In a statement, his son Anthony Avildsen described him as an extraordinary man who was super talented and very stubborn, which was like a double-edged quality about him.
"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. "It's better not to be doing something you don't want to do", Avildsen told the Los Angeles Times after he departed from the project.
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A documentary, John G. Avildsen: King Of The Underdogs, won the docu prize at the Beverly Hills Film Festival this spring.
Avildsen has two other films on his resume that are always worth watching. His other films include Neighbors, The Formula, Lean on Me and For Keeps.
The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.