If you were to ask any hardcore boxing/martial arts fan, or any appreciator of classic cinema for that matter, what their top ten favourite movies were, the odds are that the original Rocky would probably make that list. Even though the very first film in the now multi-million dollar franchise, (the latest of which, the spin-off Creed, starring Michael B Jordan, opened to rave reviews) is more than forty years old, it’s not hard to see why these movies have an almost timeless appeal.
It’s the archetypal underdog story; a tale of a hapless working class stooge from Philadelphia giving it his all and working within his limited means in order to score a win against a champ with money and resources behind him. It was the movie that made Sylvester Stallone a superstar overnight, and we all remember that famous montage and weepy ending.
It spawned a slew of imitators and sequels due to its box office success. But many people forget how much the movie owed the creative powers of its director, John Avilsden. His is a name that isn’t known in every household, like Spielberg, Scorsese or Coppola, and yet the original Rocky simply wouldn’t have been the barnstorming success it was without his visual flare or artistic talents.
The Oscar-winning director was responsible for several other beloved feature films, including The Karate Kid, Lean on Me and Inferno. Now, sadly, this Hollywood legend has died at the age of 81.
Avildsen’s son Anthony has told the press that the filmmaker has died of pancreatic cancer at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles. Stallone, who wrote the film and worked closely with Avildsen at the time, wrote a tribute to the departed director on Instagram, stating: “RIP. I’m sure you will soon be directing Hits in Heaven- Thank you, Sly.”
He later added in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter: “I owe just about everything to John Avildsen. His directing, his passion, his toughness and his heart — a great heart — is what made Rocky the film it became. He changed my life and I will be forever indebted to him. Nobody could have done it better than my friend John Avildsen. I will miss him.”
MGM chairman and CEO Gary Barber stated: “We mourn the loss of John G. Avildsen, one of America’s treasured filmmakers. Everyone remembers the first time when they saw Rocky. For over 40 years, the enduring classic underdog story about an every man overcoming all odds defined generations of moviegoers. He will always be remembered by his MGM family.”
Meanwhile Karate Kid star Ralph Macchio stated: “His earlier films, Rocky and Save The Tiger, helped influence my adolescence. His guidance in the creation of Daniel LaRusso and direction in The Karate Kid became an influence that changed my life. There are countless examples where his guiding hand created much of the magic we were able to achieve on screen. My thoughts are with his family and close friends. He will be missed.”
Our thoughts are with Avildsen’s friends and family in their time of mourning.