Entertainment

Director Sydney Pollack dies of cancer

Sydney Pollack, the Academy Award-winning director who achieved commercial and critical success with the gender-bending comedy Tootsie and the period drama Out of Africa, has died.

Sydney Pollack, the Academy Award-winning director who achieved commercial and critical success with the gender-bending comedy Tootsie and the period drama Out of Africa, has died. He was 73.

Pollack died of cancer Monday afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, surrounded by family, said agent Leslee Dart. He was diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago, Dart said, but doctors could not pinpoint the source of the disease.

Pollack, who occasionally appeared on the screen himself, worked with and gained the respect of Hollywood's best actors in a long career that reached prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.

He  played Marty Bach opposite George Clooney in Michael Clayton, which Pollack also co-produced. The film received seven Oscar nominations, including best picture and a best-actor nod for Clooney.

"He'll be missed terribly," Clooney said in a statement from his publicist.

"Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act," he added.  

He won best director and best picture Oscars for the 1985 film Out of Africa, while Tootsie earned 10 nominations, including for best picture and best director.

Pollack worked with some of Hollywood's top actors, including:

  • Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
  • Sally Field and Paul Newman in Absence of Malice.
  • Robert Mitchum in The Yakuza.
  • Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor.

Field paid tribute to Pollack's talent in a statement released Tuesday.

"Having the opportunity to know Sydney and work with him was a great gift in my life," she said. "He was a good friend and a phenomenal director, and I will cherish every moment that I ever spent with him."

Redford was a lifelong friend, the pair having met in one of Pollack's first screen roles as an actor on 1962's War Hunt.

Among the other films Pollack directed were The Way We Were, Jeremiah Johnson, The Interpreter and The Firm.

"Sydney let the dialogue and the emotion of a scene speak for itself," said Michael Apted, president of the Directors Guild of America. "Not given to cinematic tricks, his gentle and thoughtful touch and his focus on the story let us inhabit the world he created in each film."

In recent years, Pollack produced many independent films with filmmaker Anthony Minghella and a production company, Mirage Enterprises. His producing credits include The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain.

He also appeared on screen in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, Robert Altman's The Player, Robert Zemeckis's Death Becomes Her and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

Moved to New York to follow theatre passion

Pollack's last screen appearance was in Made of Honor, a romantic comedy now in theatres, in which he plays the oft-married father of star Patrick Dempsey's character.

The Lafayette, Ind., native was born to first-generation Russian-Americans.

In high school, he fell in love with theatre, a passion that prompted him to forego college, move to New York and enrol in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater.

Studying under Sanford Meisner, Pollack spent several years cutting his teeth in various areas of theatre, eventually becoming Meisner's assistant.

After appearing in a handful of Broadway productions in the 1950s, Pollack turned his eye to directing.

Pollack is survived by his wife, Claire; two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; his brother Bernie; and six grandchildren.

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