Oscar-Winning Director Sydney Pollack Dead at 73

ent-oscar.jpgLOS ANGELES ~ Sydney Pollack, the prolific US director, producer and actor who helmed the Oscar-winning romance Out of Africa and the cross-dressing comedy Tootsie, has died of cancer. He was 73.

Pollack died on Monday afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, surrounded by his family, his agent, Leslee Dart, said. He was diagnosed with cancer nine months ago.

The filmmaker balanced box office success with critical acclaim over a half-century career, working with stars such as Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Sydney Poitier, Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

Redford, one of Pollack’s favorite actors, expressed sadness at his friend’s passing.

“Sydney’s and my relationship both professionally and personally covers 40 years,” Redford was quoted as saying by The New York Times. “It’s too personal to express in a soundbite.”

Pollack tackled a variety of social issues and earned a worldwide reputation for an acute romantic and political sensibility that led to some of the most respected films of the late 1960s through the 1980s.

He received best director nominations for They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1969) a harrowing Depression-era drama starring Jane Fonda, and Tootsie (1982), starring Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who makes his way by pretending to be woman.

He finally won the directing and best picture Oscars with Out of Africa (1985), starring Streep and Redford as a Danish baroness and a big-game hunter who have a love affair destined for failure in colonial Kenya.

“I was shocked at the success of both Tootsie and Out of Africa,” Pollack said in an interview with MonstersAndCritics.com in August 2005.

“They are completely different genres – contemporary New York comedy about theater actors and then this kind of old-fashioned epic romance,” he said.

“But I think of Out of Africa as closer to the movies that I grew up loving. They did more of those then. They don’t make so many now.”

An accomplished actor, Pollack’s last screen appearance was alongside George Clooney in the critically acclaimed legal thriller Michael Clayton (2007) which he also co-produced.

“Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better,” Clooney, who also starred in this year’s Pollack-produced Leathernecks, said in a statement quoted by Variety.

“A tip of the hat to a class act. He’ll be missed terribly.”

Pollack also played memorable parts in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives (1992), and Robert Altman’s The Player (1992).

“A tall, handsome, immediately charismatic man, he was a director most actors loved to work with, because when he talked to them about acting, he knew what he was talking about,” wrote prominent US film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Born July 1, 1934, in Lafayette, Indiana, the son of a pharmacist, Pollack first had ambitions to be a dentist. But he moved to New York at age 17 and learned acting under legendary coach Sanford Meisner.

He spent several years teaching, interspersed with two years in the US army, and directed a number of television series before heading to Los Angeles, where he helped create a slew of films, many of which have gone on to become classics.

They were not all successes. Havana (1990), another venture with Redford, was a commercial failure, but Pollack soon returned with the box office smash The Firm, an adaptation of John Grisham’s thriller starring Cruise.

Last summer, Pollack pulled out of directing a film about the disputed 2000 US presidential election for cable channel HBO, after falling ill.

He was married with three children.

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