Oscar winning director Sydney Pollack dead at 73

May 27, 2008 12:00 am

, LOS ANGELES, May 27 – Sydney Pollack, a prolific director, producer and actor who made the comedy "Tootsie" and the Oscar-winning "Out of Africa," died of cancer Monday, his agent said. He was 73.

"Mr. Pollack died of cancer this afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, surrounded by family. He had been diagnosed with cancer nine months ago," Leslee Dart told AFP.

The film-maker 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.

He tackled a variety of social issues on the silver screen 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.

Pollack was twice nominated for an Oscar for best director, with "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), a masterpiece that starred 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 the website 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."

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.

More recently, Pollack was an executive producer on Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-nominated "Cold Mountain" (2003) and won acclaim for his production of and acting alongside George Clooney in "Michael Clayton" (2007), which was nominated for seven Oscars.

"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’s role in "Michael Clayton" was a return to his first trade, and he also played memorable parts in Woody Allen’s in "Husbands and Wives" (1992), and Robert Altman’s "The Player" (1992).

Last summer, Pollack pulled out of directing a film about the disputed 2000 US presidential election for cable channel HBO, after coming down with an undisclosed illness.

He was married with three children.


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