Wednesday, May 28, 2008

RIP Sidney Pollack

CNN) -- Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack, who achieved critical acclaim with the period drama "Out of Africa" and the romantic comedy "Tootsie," died of cancer Monday, his agent told CNN.

Sydney Pollack's notable films include "Out of Africa," "Tootsie" and "The Way We Were."

Pollack, 73, died at his home in Los Angeles. He was surrounded by his wife of nearly 50 years, Claire Griswold, their two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel, and his brother, Bernie, agent Leslee Dart said. the Pollacks' only son, Steven, died in a plane crash in 1993.

Pollack, who often 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, according to the Associated Press.

"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," actor George Clooney said in a statement issued by his publicist.

Last fall, Pollack played Marty Bach opposite Clooney in "Michael Clayton," a drama that examines the life of a fixer for lawyers. The film, which Pollack co-produced, received seven Oscar nominations, including best picture and a best actor nod for Clooney.

Pollack was no stranger to the Academy Awards. His 1985 film "Out of Africa," a romantic epic of a woman's passion set against the landscape of colonial Kenya, captured seven Oscars, including best director and best picture. Watch a glimpse of Pollack's film contributions ยป

In addition to directing "Out of Africa," "Tootsie," "The Way We Were," and a host of other Oscar-nominated films, he appeared in Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives," and his own "The Electric Horseman." He recently appeared in "Made of Honor," playing Patrick Dempsey's father.

He co-starred with Tom Cruise in "Eyes Wide Shut"; he had previously directed the actor in "The Firm."

"I first met him while he was in the midst of editing 'Tootsie,' " Cruise said in a statement, according to the AP. "I'd seen every one of his pictures and he generously took the meeting. ... He spent over six hours, with the patience of Job, answering all my questions. ... He was a Renaissance man and a great friend. I will miss him dearly."

Pollack famously played the agent to lead character Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) in "Tootsie," arguing with Dorsey, a temperamental actor, over his inability to get a job:

"Are you saying that nobody in New York will work with me?" Dorsey asked.

"No, no, that's too limited," replied Pollack as agent George Fields. "Nobody in Hollywood wants to work with you either."

He then ripped into the actor for his Method acting as a tomato; Dorsey had refused to sit down because it was "illogical."

"You were a tomato!" Fields exploded.

During production, "Tootsie" was hampered by script rewrites (the screenplay was eventually credited to Murray Schisgal and Larry Gelbart) and fierce arguments between Hoffman and Pollack. But it all worked out in the end: the 1982 film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including nods for Pollack, Hoffman and the screenplay.

Pollack also produced nearly 50 films, including 1981's "Absence of Malice," which starred Paul Newman and Sally Field, and 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley," which starred Matt Damon.

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

Pollack had a long working relationship with Robert Redford, whom he directed in seven films, beginning with "This Property Is Condemned" in 1966. The two had huge successes with almost all their films, which included "Jeremiah Johnson" (1972), "The Way We Were" (1973), "Three Days of the Condor" (1975), "The Electric Horseman" (1979) and "Out of Africa" (1985). Only 1990's "Havana" flopped at the box office.

"It's easy working with Bob; I don't have to be diplomatic with him," Pollack once told The Associated Press. "I know what he can and cannot do; I know all the colors he has. I've always felt he was a character actor in the body of a leading man."

Sydney Irwin Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana, and grew up in South Bend. He skipped college to enroll in New York's Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater, where he studied under famed teacher Sanford Meisner. He eventually became Meisner's assistant.

After a handful of acting roles, he turned to directing and established himself in television, directing episodes of such series as "Ben Casey," "Naked City" and "The Fugitive." His first theatrical film was 1965's "The Slender Thread," starring Sidney Poitier as a social worker trying to talk a woman out of suicide.

In recent years, Pollack made a number of appearances on television, giving performances as Will's father in "Will & Grace" and a murderous orderly on "The Sopranos."

Though he had been working until a few months ago, he had been in a lot of pain and did not watch "Recount," the HBO film that he executive produced, said Dart. "Recount" premiered Sunday night.

Doctors never were able to determine the primary source of the cancer, she said.

Services will be private, she said.


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