‘Willy Wonka’ Director Mel Stuart Dies at 83

Mel Stuart was a documentarian who directed "The Making of the President 1960"

Mel Stuart, the director of beloved family film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," has died. He was 83 years old.

The cause was cancer, his daughter told the Associated Press.

Getty Images

Though "Willy Wonka" has developed a passionate following due to its repeated airings on television, it was a commercial failure when it was first released in 1971. So disappointed was Paramount Pictures in the film's box office performance that it declined to renew its distribution deal when its rights expired, ultimately allowing rights to fall in the hands of Warner Bros., which remade the film in 2005 with Johnny Depp taking over the lead role played by Gene Wilder.

But critics loved the film, with Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times calling it "…probably the best film of its sort since 'The Wizard of Oz.'"

Stuart was best known for his work on the film adaptation of Roald Dahl novel, but he spent the bulk of his career as an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Throughout his life, he exhibited a fascination with politics, history and culture, taking as his subjects such diverse topics as iconoclastic art and the rise of Fascism in documentaries like "Man Ray – The Prophet of the Avant-Garde" and "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." He was also an important chronicler of the modern presidential campaign through his "The Making of the President" films which focused on the 1960, 1964, and 1968 races.

Stuart would receive four Emmy awards, an Academy Award nomination and a Peabody for his work.

He is survived by  his daughter, Madeline, an interior designer, and by sons Andrew, a literary agent, and Peter, a filmmaker.