Oscar-winning filmmaker John G. Avildsen, who directed the original Rocky and Karate Kid movies, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 81, according to reports.
Avildsen also directed the Jack Lemmon drama Save the Tiger and the Morgan Freeman drama Lean on Me. The filmmaker worked with numerous legends over the years, including Marlon Brandon and George C. Scott (The Formula), Susan Sarandon and Peter Boyle (Joe), John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (Neighbors), and Burt Reynolds (W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings).
As great as the first Rocky was, the original Karate Kid is nearer and dearer to my heart. Avildsen coaxed an Oscar-nominated performance out of Pat Morita and did a wonderful job capturing the unlikely bond between Mr. Miyagi and his young protege, Daniel LaRusso.
Avildsen directed the first two Karate Kid sequels, and later in life, he expressed regret over his decision not to return to direct Rocky II, though he did come back to the boxing franchise to direct and edit 1990’s Rocky V.
Avildsen later re-teamed with Morita on the 1999 Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Inferno, which proved to be his last film as a director. There was a certain optimism to Avildsen’s work that is sorely missing from the majority of movies today.
An NYU grad who got his start in the film business working as an assistant director on films from Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger, Avildsen is survived by a daughter and three sons.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief