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

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Avildsen's son Anthony said his father died on Friday in Los Angeles from pancreatic cancer. Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, George C. Scott, and Marlon Brando all passed in front of Avildsen's camera over the next few years, but films like Neighbors, The Formula, and Slow Dancing In The Big City failed to attract either critical love or box office success.

In the years before Rocky, Avildsen won praise for two dark character studies: Joe (1970) with Peter Boyle and Susan Sarandon and Save the Tiger (1973) starring Jack Lemmon, who won the Academy Award for best actor for the role. 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.

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RIP to my friend and KK director John G Avildsen. He directed seven actors to Oscar nominations.

Avildsen was one of the the great filmmakers, and now he is with us no more.

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Rocky was made for a modest $1 million U.S. and generated $225 million in ticket sales to became a cultural phenomenon, with a series of unforgettable characters and scenes and a blend of romance with pugilistic action. He later returned to the franchise in 1990 to direct Rocky V.

Avildsen had come up the hard way in films. Any filmmaker telling a tale of an underdog who gets their shot, or even just a story of personal redemption, or heck, a a movie in which people play sports, has watched Rocky and paid close attention.

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The Directors Guild of America also honored Avildsen following the news of his death, releasing a statement which remembers him as a "beloved" and "prolific" director. (1988), starring Molly Ringwald; drama "Lean on Me" (1989), which helped launch Morgan Freeman's career; and bull riding biopic "8 Seconds" (1994), starring Luke Perry. He is survived by daughter Bridget and sons Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley, reported Variety.