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

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

John Avildsen, the Oscar-winning director who made Hollywood's quintessential underdog story in the 1976 boxing saga Rocky with a then unknown Sylvester Stallone, and crafted another inspiring tale in The Karate Kid, died on Friday at age 81, his family said.

His eldest son, Anthony, told the Los Angeles Times his father died of pancreatic cancer.

A documentary on Avildsen, "John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs", premiered earlier this year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, Avildsen rose to prominence with the 1970 violent drama "Joe", which earned critical acclaim for its star Peter Boyle, who played Joe Curran, a racist factory worker who hates "hippies and blacks".

Avildsen directed the box-office victor The Karate Kid, released in 1984, as well as The Karate Kid Part II in 1986 and The Karate Kid Part III in 1989.

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The director was also the subject of a recent documentary, John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs, which is now screening at various film festivals.

A friend sent Avildsen the "Rocky" script. And although anyone would be fortunate to have made such a fantastic motion picture, even once in their lives, Rocky has perhaps overshadowed numerous filmmaker's other great accomplishments. Paying tribute to a long career that included classics like "The Karate Kid", Avildsen's peers noted his artistic legacy and character.

Released in the summer of 1984, The Karate Kid attracted millions of youngsters and brought Morita, a veteran performer best known for his TV roles, an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor.

Avildsen had come up the hard way in films. Nobody could have done it better than my friend John Avildsen. To this day, I can still remember being in the movie theater watching Daniel Larusso, despite all odds, defeat that blonde-haired jerk Johnny with one kick and win the tournament.

Avildsen is survived by a daughter, Bridget, and sons Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley.

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