‘Rocky’ Director John G. Avildsen Dies at 81

Oscar-winning director John G. Avildsen has died.

The filmmaker, who is perhaps best known for directing the 1976 classic Rocky, reportedly passed away from pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles at age 81.

Avildsen began his career as a cinematographer and made his feature directing debut with a small ’69 drama titled Turn on to Love. He followed it up with a number of films – including the thriller Joe (starring Peter Boyle and a young Susan Sarandon) and the drama Save the Tiger (which earned Jack Lemmon an Oscar win) – before he signed on to direct an underdog boxing screenplay written by a certain Sylvester Stallone. He wasn’t interested in a boxing movie at first, but eventually took a look at the screenplay after Stallone asked and asked. Rocky went on to be nominated for 10 Oscars, winning three: Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Picture.

“We mourn the loss of John G. Avildsen, one of America’s treasured filmmakers,” Gary Barber, MGM chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “Everyone remembers the first time when they saw Rocky. For over 40 years, the enduring classic underdog story about an every man overcoming all odds defined generations of moviegoers. He will always be remembered by his MGM family.”

The director was also behind the original The Karate Kid, a big hit in 1984, and stayed at the helm for Parts II and III. Avildsen considered directing a Rocky sequel, but said no to focus on another project, a decision he later said he regretted. Avildsen made a return to the boxing drama franchise he kicked off, directing 1990’s Rocky V.

Avildsen’s other credits include the 1989 education drama Lean on Me, which starred Morgan Freeman as the principal of a decaying inner-city school, and the 1992 drama The Power of One, starring Stephen Dorff and Freeman and again focusing on the rise of a boxing champ.

Stallone took to social media following the sad news…

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