Oscar winner John G. Avildsen passed away in Los Angeles earlier Friday at the age of 81. He won that Oscar for directing the 1976 boxing classic Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallon. Avildsen had also directed all three of the original ‘Karate Kid’ films.
In a Variety interview, Avildsen recalls that he wasn’t too thrilled about directing a boxing story, but he was “moved by the urban character study of Sylvester Stallone’s script.” Avilsen opted out of Rocky II to work on another film, which he considers to be “one of my biggest mistakes.”
Rocky also earned Avildsen a DGA award. He wouldn’t be nominated for another Academy Award until 1983 for the documentary short “Traveling Hopefully.”
The Director’s Guild released a statement regarding the famed director’s death: “We were greatly saddened to learn of the passing of beloved director John Avildsen. 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. Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans.”
Avildsen’s films encapsulated the underdog story; overcoming adversity and achieving victory against incredible odds.
John G. Avildsen was born Oak Park, Illinois, on December 21st, 1935. He graduated from Hotchkiss School and NYU. He began his film career as an assistant director for Author Penn and Otto Preminger.
Avildsen worked as a cinematographer from the mid ’60s to the early ’70s, lensing seven films, including his feature directorial debut Turn on to Love (1969).
In 2016, a documentary was released detailing the life and career of the now-late director. The documentary film John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs features interviews with Sylvester Stallon, Martin Scorsese, Jerry Weintraub, Burt Reynolds, and Karate Kid star Ralph Macchio.
John G. Avildsen was the father of one daughter and three sons: Bridget, Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley.