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R.I.P. Director Michael Winner (1935-2013)

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by Oliver Lyttelton
January 21, 2013 12:19 PM
2 Comments
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Michael Winner

Sad news arrived today with the announcement that filmmaker and writer Michael Winner has passed away at the age of 77. The director was best known for his work on the "Death Wish" franchise, helming the first three movies in the vigilante series, as well as other films including actioner "The Mechanic" and horror film "The Sentinel."  He'd been suffering from a disease of the liver for some time, and had been given eighteen months to live last year.

Winner was born in Hampstead, London, and became involved in showbiz at an early age, writing a gossip column at the Kensington Post at the age of 14, and going on to write for the New Musical Express, among others. After studying at Cambridge, he worked as an assistant director at the BBC, before penning 1958 crime thriller "Man With A Gun," and making his own feature directorial debut on "Shoot To Kill" in 1960. He had increasing success in the UK across the swinging Sixties, with films like the Gilbert & Sullivan adaptation "The Cool Mikado" with comedy star Frankie Howerd, seminal Swinging Sixties picture "I'll Never Forget What's'isname" with Oliver Reed (a six-time collaborator with Winner) and Orson Welles, and the well-regarded WW2 comedy "Hannibal Brooks."

His success brought him across the pond, making his Hollywood debut on United Artists' 1971 Western "Lawman" with Burt Lancaster and Lee J. Cobb. He also directed Marlon Brando in "The Nightcomers" and worked a number of times with Charles Bronson, his other key collaborator, on "The Mechanic" (recently remade with Jason Statham), "Chato's Land," and "The Stone Killer." But their best-known team-up came on 1974's "Death Wish," an adaptation of a best-selling novel by Brian Garfield about a mild-mannered architect driven to become a vigilante killer after his wife is killed and daughter raped. The film was an enormous box office hit, eventually spawning four sequels, the first two of which were helmed by Winner (a remake is in the works from director Joe Carnahan).

Other minor hits followed, including cult horror "The Sentinel" in 1977 and the "Death Wish" sequels, before he returned to the UK for comedy "A Chorus Of Disapproval." His final films were all made at home, including 1993's controversial "Dirty Weekend" (which was banned from video release for two years by the British Board of Film Certification), and his final film, 1999's "Parting Shots," starring Chris Rea.

But even after retiring from filmmaking, Winner remained active in public life; he worked as a restaurant critic for the Sunday Times for decades (his last column was written only last month), published his autobiography in 2004, remained a frequent TV guest, and appeared in a cult series of insurance adverts (see below). He also helped to establish the Police Memorial Trust in 1984.

A bachelor for much of his life, Winner married his childhood sweetheart Geraldine in 2011, and she announced his death this morning after he passed away at his home in Kensington. While Winner was never a critical darling, there was an unpretentious pulpy fun to many of the films of his peak era and he was undoubtedly influential (director Edgar Wright has sung the praises of "The Sentinel" and "Death Wish III" in particular), and as a colorful character alone, he'll be much missed. Certainly, his letter of advice to his younger self (via @LettersOfNote) demonstrates why. [BBC]

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2 Comments

  • Matt | January 21, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    I think you mean "(1935-2013)" in the headline, yes?

  • Editor | January 21, 2013 2:18 PM

    Fixed. Thanks!

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