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

Renowned director John G. Avildsen, who directed "Rocky" and "The Karate Kid" passes away on Friday.

Avildsen had been suffering pancreatic cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his son, Anthony, said by phone.

Avildsen's definitive work came in 1976 when he introduced moviegoers to an upstart boxer named Rocky Balboa.

It won an Oscar for best picture, as well one for Avildsen as director. The documentary is a companion to the book The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Other Underdogs, written by Larry Powell and Tom Garrett.

According to an interview a year ago with The Baltimore Sun, Avildsen was hesitant to take on Rocky at first, citing his own disinterest in boxing.

"Rocky" was a chance venture for Avildsen. And on the second or third page, he's talking to his turtles, Cuff and Link. I was charmed by it, and I thought it was an excellent character study and a beautiful love story. "His directing, his passion, his toughness and his heart - a great heart - is what made "Rocky" the film it became", Stallone wrote in a statement.

"The Karate Kid" was another surprise hit.

He also guided Jack Lemmon to his only best actor Oscar for his role in the 1973 film Save the Tiger.

Among John G. Avildsen's other notable credits include 1980's The Formula (starring Marlon Brando and George C. Scott), the 1981 comedy Neighbors (which marked the final performance from the late John Belushi) and the 1989 drama Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman.

John Guilbert Avildsen was born in 1935 in Oak Park, IllInois, the son of a tool manufacturer.

Avildsen started in the business as a cinematographer, lensing seven films from the mid-'60s to the early '70s, including his feature directorial debut Turn on to Love (1969) and subsequent helming efforts Guess What We Learned in School Today, Joe, Cry Uncle, Okay Bill and The Stoolie (1972), starring Jackie Mason. To me, that is good drama.

Avildsen is survived by his four children, Anthony, Jonathan, Ashley and Bridget, and our thoughts are with them during this hard time.

  • Salvatore Jensen