John Avildsen, director of both Rocky and Karate Kid I, has passed away from pancreatic cancer at age 81 in Los Angeles this evening.
Avildsen was known for underdog tales of man against the world. Early on he directed Sylvester Stallone in the very first Rocky. He later directed Ralph Macchio in rousing Rocky-like Karate Kid, later going on to direct Macchio in two subsequent sequels.
Even before Rocky, Avildsen showed an interest and natural talent for sympathetic downtrodden characters, as in his 1973 film Save the Tiger starring Jack Lemmon “as a down-on-his-luck businessman struggling to hold on to his moral center in a seemingly crumbling world”.
Avildesen would later direct Morgan Freeman in his award-winning Lean On Me, a tale about a tough inner city principle Joe Clark, facing long odds against kids who just don’t care.
Eventually a documentary was created about him, entitled John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs, and funded via Kickstarter.
At some point, Avildsen migrated to more prosaic, material like 1980’s The Formula, starring acting titans George C. Scott and Marlon Brando in a story about a man whose discovery could end the need for oil, and much later, the 1999 Jean Claude van Damme movie Inferno, a film so bad Avildsen tried desperately to have his name removed from the film after the studio recut it. .
Among those paying tribute to Avildsen was his Rocky star Sylvester Stallone who posted a farewell on Instagram with the caption “I’m sure you will soon be directing Hits in Heaven- Thank you, Sly.”
Avildsen’s final unfinished project, his first in two decades, was to be Nate & Al with Richard Dreyfuss and Martin Landau.
Rest in peace, good sir. You deserve it.