World & Peoples

Robert Altman Oscar-winning director is dead

LOS ANGELES: Oscar-winning director Robert Altman, the maverick Hollywood outsider who became famous for his quirky and cynical view of America, has passed away. He was 81.

Altman, the creator of a string of classics including MASH, The Player and Gosford Park died on Monday, a spokesman for the director's Sandcastle 5 production company in New York said.

Robert Altman Oscar-winning director is dead"Bob died last night," the spokesman said. No further information was revealed.

Altman directed 86 films during a 55-year career that saw him receive seven Academy Award nominations. He received an honorary Oscar this year in recognition of a lifetime's work which "repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike," the Academy said.

Though still hard at work -- his subversive musical comedy Prairie Home Companion was released in the US this year -- Altman said he was taken aback when he was first told he would receive an honorary Oscar.

"When the news first came to me, I was caught kind of off guard. I always thought this kind of award meant it was all over," he said during his acceptance speech, describing his career as one long-running movie.

"To me, I've just made one long film," he said. "I love filmmaking. It has given me an entree to the world and the human condition, and for that I am truly grateful."

Altman was nominated for a best director's Oscar five times -- for Gosford Park (2001), MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993) -- but he never won.

Famed for his eclectic work, fierce cinematic independence and often cynical social and political eye, Altman was responsible for a staggering variety of films, many of which other directors refused to take on.

While not all of his films were successes, Altman -- who produced 39 and wrote 37 of them -- always maintained that they were never made to satisfy a mass audience.

Among his other movies are the 1971 Western McCabe and Mrs Miller, the 1973 crime thriller The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us (1974) and the 1994 comedy about the fashion industry, Pret-a-Porter.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1925, the young Altman took an early interest in sound recording before enlisting to become an air force bomber pilot in 1945.

After the war, he wrote magazine stories and radio scripts before finding work making documentary and employee-training films in Kansas City.

His first low-budget feature, The Delinquents, came in 1957, before he moved to Hollywood to write for television shows such as 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' and 'Bonanza'.

In 1969, he was offered the script of MASH after 15 other filmmakers turned it down. He turned the 1970 picture into a witty, subtle, yet outspoken criticism of the US role in the Vietnam War that was raging at the time.

It won Altman his first best director Oscar nod, spawned a long-running US television series and made Altman a serious player in the movie industry.

In the early 1970s, he made McCabe and Mrs Miller with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, as well as the Philip Marlowe whodunit The Long Goodbye.

He then won his second Oscar nod for Nashville and made several quirky films, including Thieves Like Us, Three Women and A Wedding, as well as a failed 1980 bid to revive the spinach-eating cartoon buffoon Popeye.

Undeterred, Altman continued making films, mostly for television, and scored an upswing in his career with The Player, a sharp and cynical satire on Hollywood's wheeling-and-dealing studio system, starring Tim Robbins.

His last Oscar nod came in 2002 for his English manners comedy Gosford Park, but the award went to Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind.

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