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‘Rocky’ & ‘Karate Kid’ Director John G Avildsen Is Dead; Sylvester Stallone Mourns

John G Avildsen Rocky

Oscar-winning director John G Avildsen (Rocky, Karate Kid) died late on June 16, 2017. He was 81. The Hollywood Reporter reports that he died of pancreatic cancer. 

Avildsen was best known as the director of the first Rocky movie, as well as the original three Karate Kid films. He had chosen not to direct the second and third films in the Rocky franchisee, in order to work on other projects. However, he came back to direct Rocky V

In a statement, Sylvester Stallone said, “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.”

While not too enthused about the idea of a boxing film, Avildsen thought that the story of a local club fighter’s determination was a good character study, and agreed to direct the film. 

“When this script [written by Stallone] came to me from an old friend … I said I had no interest in boxing, I think boxing’s sort of a dumb thing. He pleaded and pleaded, so I finally read the thing. And on the second or third page, he’s talking to his turtles, Cuff and Link. I was charmed by it, and I thought it was an excellent character study and a beautiful love story. And I said yes,” Avildsen had said in an interview.

The film, Rocky, went on to win Avildsen the Oscar for Best Director, Best Picture, and more nominations. Avildsen also won the Director’s Guild of America award for Rocky.

The three original Karate Kid films featured the legendary character of Mr. Miyagi, played by actor Pat Morita. Speaking of Miyagi, Avildsen had said, “Mr. Miyagi was the ideal surrogate father that everybody wished they had. He was wise, he was generous, he was funny. He was a fairy godmother. And Pat Morita brought him to life, he was ideal. Who could be better?”

Ralph Macchio, who played the original Karate Kid, said in a statement, “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.”


The DGA released a obituary, which stated, “We were greatly saddened to learn of the passing of beloved director John Avildsen. His iconic Rocky, which won the DGA Feature Film Award in 1976, has been lionized throughout our culture as the quintessential underdog story – a recurring theme in his notable body of work which included Save the Tiger and The Karate Kid franchise. Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans.” 

Avildsen began his career as a cinematographer in the 1960s, and made his first film as a director with Turn on to Love in 1969. A documentary on his life and career, John G Avildsen: The King of the Underdogs, was made in 2016 and featured at the Santa Barbara Film Festival last year. 

Avildsen is survived by his daughter Bridget, and three sons. 


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