Director John Avildsen dies at 81; won Oscar for 'Rocky'

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Avildsen had been suffering pancreatic cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his son, Anthony, said by phone. The boxing drama took home three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing. No one had placed much money on the film telling the story of a bullied teenager who learns karate.

Avildsen took a chance on Rocky, written by and starring the then-unknown Sylvester Stallone as a struggling boxer. Ralph Macchio in a statement provided to TheWrap said, "I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend and "The Karate Kid" director John G. Avildsen. His directing, his passion, his toughness and his heart — a great heart — is what made "Rocky" the film it became", Stallone wrote in a statement.

In accepting the Oscar for best director in March 1977, Avildsen told the audience, "I guess what Rocky did was give a lot of people hope, and there was never a better feeling than doing that".

Another underdog film, "The Karate Kid", was also an unexpected success at the box office and spawned a series of films, a sequel and a remake.

Also known for helming films like "Rocky V" (1990), "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings" (1975), "Neighbors" (1981), "Lean on Me" (1989), and "8 Seconds" (1994), Avildsen was the subject of a documentary, John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs, that premiered this year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

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Among other Oscar nominations for "Rocky" were two for Stallone, best actor and best screenplay; plus best actress, Talia Shire; best supporting actor, Burgess Meredith and Burt Young; and best song, "Gonna Fly Now".

Avildsen was born on December 21, 1935, in Oak Park, Ill.

"I owe just about everything to John Avildsen". A few years later, he would direct Jack Lemmon to a Best Actor Oscar with 1973's Save the Tiger.

Hollywood is mourning the death of John G. Avildsen.

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