Nagaland Page
top ad3

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Rocky, The Karate Kid director John G Avildsen dies at 81 of pancreatic cancer

Sunday, 18 June 2017 14:21
Rate this item
(0 votes)

John G Avildsen, who directed Rocky and The Karate Kid — two dark-horse, underdog favourites that went on to become Hollywood franchises — died Friday at age 81.

Anthony Avildsen said his father died Friday in Los Angeles from pancreatic cancer. “He was a pretty extraordinary man in my estimation. He was super talented and very driven and very stubborn and that was to his detriment but also often to his benefit,” Anthony Avildsen said.

Rocky was a huge success. It won Oscars for best picture, director (Avildsen) and editing and was nominated for seven others. No less a Hollywood eminence than Frank Capra loved it, telling The New York Times in 1977, “When I saw it, I said, ‘Boy, that’s a picture I wish I had made.’ “ For his part, Avildsen said Capra — who also championed underdogs on film — was his favourite director.

Rocky was a chance venture for Avildsen. Sylvester Stallone, then unknown, had written the script and sought Avildsen to direct it, but Avildsen was already working on another film. Suddenly the production company ran out of money and that film was cancelled.

A friend sent Avildsen the Rocky script. “On page 3, this guy (Rocky) is talking to his turtles, and I was hooked,” Avildsen remarked. “It was a great character study.” Avildsen agreed to direct Rocky even though he knew nothing about boxing.

The film was shot on a tight budget, less than $1 million, and it was completed in 28 days.

“The first time I showed it to 40 or 50 friends, they all freaked out, so that was encouraging,” he recalled. “But I guess when I saw the lines around the block, it began to take on a reality.”

Five sequels followed, but Avildsen turned them down, until the fourth, Rocky V, in 1990. He said he considered it a good script and liked that Rocky would die. During the shooting the producers decided Rocky had to live. “You don’t kill off your corporate assets,” Avildsen commented. The fifth sequel, Rocky Balboa, came out in 2006.

The Karate Kid was another surprise hit. In it, a teenager hounded by bullies played by Ralph Macchio seeks help from a Japanese handyman (Noryuki “Pat” Morita) who teaches him about karate. At the climax, a newly self-confident Macchio takes on a bully in a karate contest — and wins.

Released in the summer of 1984, The Karate Kid attracted millions of youngsters and brought Morita, a veteran performer best known for his TV roles, an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor.

“As soon as the producers saw the business it was doing, they wanted to do it again,” Avildsen said in a 1986 interview. “I was very apprehensive. I didn’t want to do a sequel because this was a very tough act to follow.”

He relented and directed both The Karate Kid, Part II in 1986 and The Karate Kid, Part III in 1989. (The franchise was revived in 2010 with a hit remake directed by Harald Zwart.)

Avildsen had come up the hard way in films. He started with a long apprenticeship as assistant director, then moved up to production manager, cinematographer and editor.

He directed a few small films and then broke through with Joe (1970). Peter Boyle portrayed a hardhat bigot at odds with the emerging hippie youth culture.

“My hope as a filmmaker is to make people feel a little differently about something when they leave the theater,” Avildsen told the Los Angeles Times in 1971.

Avildsen liked working with unknowns like Boyle. “The problem with name actors is everyone knows them, no matter how (Dustin) Hoffman-y they look,” he told the Times.

Boyle, whose career got a huge boost from Joe, told The New York Times that as a director, Avildsen was “on your side. He makes you feel good about what you’re doing.”

Among other Oscar nominations for Rocky were two for Stallone, best actor and best screenplay; plus best actress, Talia Shire; best supporting actor, Burgess Meredith and Burt Young; and best song, Gonna Fly Now.

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


  Katy Perry becomes first person to have 100 million Twitter followers Jon Snow’s true lineage will be revealed in the upcoming season of GoT