John G. Avildsen (1935 - 2017)

John G. Avildsen, the award-winning director of “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid,” died Friday, June 16, 2017, of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles, according to multiple news sources. He was 81.

Avildsen directed two of the most inspiring underdog stories in modern cinema. He won an Academy Award for directing “Rocky” in 1976. The movie also won for best picture and starred Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the screenplay, as a struggling boxer who unexpectedly gets a shot at a title fight.

“Rocky” proved a hit with audiences and critics and spawned a number of sequels. Avildsen would return to the franchise to direct “Rocky V” in 1990.

“I owe just about everything to John Avildsen. His directing, his passion, his toughness, and his heart — a great heart — is what made ‘Rocky’ the film it became. He changed my life, and I will be forever indebted to him,” Stallone said in a statement.

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“Rocky” epitomized the best of 1970s cinema, and Avildsen helped to define 1980s cinema with another underdog story, “The Karate Kid” (1984). Starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, “The Karate Kid” movies told the story of an emotional kid rising through the ranks of competitive martial arts under the guidance of a strict but benevolent mentor. Avildsen directed “Part II” in 1986 and “Part III” in 1989.

“RIP to my friend and KK director John G Avildsen. He brought inspirational stories to us all and had a guiding hand in changing my life,” Macchio tweeted.

Born Dec. 21, 1935, in Oak Park, Illinois, Avildsen had his first success as a director with the low-budget feature “Joe,” starring Peter Boyle and Susan Sarandon. Boyle received acclaim for his performance, and it established Avildsen’s reputation as a director who could get the most out of his actors.

He directed Jack Lemmon to an Academy Award for his performance in “Save the Tiger” in 1973, and he helped launch Morgan Freeman to stardom in the film “Lean on Me” in 1989.

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

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