Michael Cimino, Oscar-winning director of “Deer Hunter” and “Heaven’s Gate,” has died at the age of 77.
Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux revealed the news on Twitter Saturday, saying, “Michael Cimino has died, in peace, surrounded by friends and the two women who love him. We love him too.” Details of his death have not been disclosed.
Cimino directed a total of seven feature films in his career but is best known for the 1978 post-Vietnam War drama “The Deer Hunter,” which earned five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken.
In addition to “The Deer Hunter,” one of the most acclaimed films of American cinema, Cimino also directed “Heaven’s Gate,” widely recognized as one of the most epic flops in Hollywood history — at least upon its initial release in 1980.
A New York City native who got his start shooting commercials, Cimino was tapped by producer-actor Clint Eastwood to make his feature directing debut on Eastwood’s 1974 thriller “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.”
He then pitched an ambitious Vietnam War drama to EMI executives. “The Deer Hunter” came out in 1978 and starred Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage as three friends and fellow soldiers who fight in the war and then struggle to rebuild their lives afterwards back on the homefront.
The film also featured Meryl Streep, in only her second big-screen role, and Streep’s then-fiancé, John Cazale, in his final screen performance before his death from lung cancer in 1978.
The director followed up “The Deer Hunter” with “Heaven’s Gate” in 1980, given mostly free range due to the success of his previous film.
Unfortunately, the 1980 Western became an unmitigated disaster both for critics and audiences alike. The film earned only $3 million on a $44 million budget, leading to the downfall of the film’s distributor, United Artists.
UA was sold by parent company the Transamerica Corporation, which got so spooked by the box office performance of “Heaven’s Gate” that it abandoned film production altogether.
In the years since, “Heaven’s Gate” has been viewed much more favorably, and a 2012 restoration of the director’s full, uncut version bolstered a critical re-evaluation of the film.
Fremaux told The Village Voice in 2013 that the film should now be regarded “not merely as a movie deserving of a better reputation but as one of the masterpieces of world cinema.”
Cimino made four more movies after “Heaven’s Gate,” 1985’s “Year of the Dragon,” 1987’s “The Sicilian,” 1990’s “Desperate Hours” and 1996’s “Sunchaser,” but none received the critical acclaim or box office success of his earlier work, due in part to the taint of “Heaven’s Gate.”
Notoriously dodgy with press, Cimino often gave out contradictory versions of his life and history, including his birth date, though it is generally accepted as being in the year 1943.
"Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" (1974) Michael Cimino's feature directing debut starred Clint Eastwood (who also produced the film and hired Cimino for the gig) as a Korean War vet who took in a young drifter, played by Jeff Bridges. The film was a commercial success and earned Bridges a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
"The Deer Hunter" (1978) Cimino's second film starred Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage as three friends and soldiers who fight in the Vietnam War and then struggle to rebuild their lives afterwards back on the homefront. The movie won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Cimino, who also co-wrote and co-produced it, and Best Supporting Actor for Walken.
"Heaven's Gate" (1980) Given carte blanche for time and budget after the success of "The Deer Hunter," Cimino made an epic Western that became an unmitigated disaster at the box office and was widely panned by critics -- until a full directors-cut restoration in recent years began to turn the tide in terms of its legacy.
"Year of the Dragon" (1985) Cimino followed the "Heaven's Gate" disaster with a pulpy gangster movie set in New York City's Chinatown, with a script he co-wrote with Oliver Stone. It was likewise panned, particularly for its stererotypical depictions of Asian characters.
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; HarperCollins
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Nancy Reagan died of congestive heart failure on March 6 at age 94. The actress-turned-first lady starred in films such as “Night Into Morning” (1951) and “Hellcats of the Navy” (1957), in which she appeared with her husband, eventual President Ronald Reagan, and led the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign of the 1980s.
George Martin, the producer for the Beatles, died on March 8 at age 90. The mastermind behind the Beatles' unparalleled success was affectionately known as "The Fifth Beatle."
Keith Emerson, founding member of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on March 11 at age 71. ELP is known as one of the most famous rock bands of the '70s, and Emerson also worked as a film composer on movies like the Sylvester Stallone thriller, "Nighthawks."
Frank Sinatra, Jr. died of a heart attack on March 16 at age 72. The son of the legendary singer served as a musical director and conductor for his father, and often performed his father's greatest hits while on tour.
Rob Ford, former mayor of Toronto, died of cancer on March 22 at age 46. Ford was known for a turbulent political career that included, among other things, confessing during his tenure as mayor that he smoked crack cocaine.
Malik Taylor, a.k.a. Phife Dawg, died on March 23 at age 45. The rapper was the co-founder of the legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.
Joe Garagiola, MLB announcer, died on March 23 at age 90. In addition to a sportscasting career that was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, Garagiola also was known as a panelist on NBC's "Today" show and a guest host on "The Tonight Show."
Ken Howard, president of SAG-AFTRA, died on March 23 at age 71. Howard was responsible for restoring stability to the Screen Actors Guild in 2008 and merging it with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists four years later.
Stand-up comedian Garry Shandling died of a heart attack on March 24 at age 66. Shandling's subversive brand of TV comedy paved the way for future hits like "Seinfeld" and "The Sarah Silverman Program."
Earl Hamner, TV writer and producer, died of cancer on March 24 at age 92. Hamner was the creator and narrator of the famed family TV series, "The Waltons."
Tom Whedon, father of "The Avengers" director Joss Whedon, died on March 25 at age 83. Tom Whedon was a writer on several classic TV shows, including a stint as showrunner for the children's series "The Electric Company."
Erik Bauersfeld, voice of "Star Wars" character Admiral Ackbar, died on April 4 at age 93. Ackbar's famous line "It's a trap!" is commonly spoken amongst "Star Wars" fans and in Internet culture
Merle Haggard, famed country music star, died of pneumonia on April 6 at age 79. Haggard was most well-known for writing the song "Okie From Muskogee."
Doris Roberts, star of "Everybody Loves Raymond," died on April 18 at age 90. Roberts won five Emmys in her career, including four as Ray Romano's mother, Marie.
Joanie Laurer, a.k.a. Chyna, died at age 45 on April 21. Known as the "Eighth Wonder Of The World," Chyna was one of the biggest stars of WWE's Attitude Era and a member of the infamous faction D-Generation X.
Guy Hamilton, famed British director, died at age 93 on April 21. The director was known for helming four James Bond films: "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever," "The Man With The Golden Gun," and "Live and Let Die."
Prince Rogers Nelson, known simply to his fans as Prince, died at age 57 on April 21. Prince was known worldwide as one of the biggest rock stars of the 80s, with albums like "Purple Rain" and "Sign o' The Times."
Michelle McNamara, crime writer wife of Patton Oswalt, died on April 22 at age 46. McNamara was the founder of the website True Crime Diary, which provided news on developing investigations and cold cases.
Reg Grundy, veteran TV producer, died on May 8 at age 92. Grundy is considered to be the most prolific producer in the history of Australian television, launching multiple acting careers and hit shows, including the long-running soap opera "Neighbors."
William Schallert, veteran actor, died on May 9 at age 93. Schallert took on over 400 roles in a career that continued until 2014. He served as SAG president from 1979-81, during which the guild entered a three-month strike over home video sales.
Gene Gutowski, Holocaust survivor and film producer, died May 11 at age 90. Gutowski produced four films by Roman Polanski, including "The Pianist." He lost his family in the Holocaust and worked in U.S. intelligence to hunt down Nazis after World War II.
Morley Safer, longtime correspondent for "60 Minutes," died on May 19 at age 84. Safer won a dozen Emmys during his 46-year career on CBS News' marquee program.
John Berry, founding member of the Beastie Boys, died on May 20 at age 52. Berry was a member of the group during its formative years, but left shortly after the release of their debut EP. The Beastie Boys thanked Berry for his influence during their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.
Burt Kwouk, star of Peter Sellers' "Pink Panther" films, died May 24 at age 85. Kwouk played Inspector Clouseau's servant Cato, whom was instructed to attack Clouseau when he least expected to keep him on his toes. Kwouk also appeared in the Bond films "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice"
Joe Fleishaker, low-budget film actor, died on May 25 at age 62. With a weight of over 500 lbs., Fleishaker gained cult fame as Troma Films' "biggest action star" and was featured in the "Toxic Avenger" series
Muhammad Ali, legendary professional boxer, died on June 3 at age 74. Ali was a three-time heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest and, at his peak, the most polarizing athletes who ever lived.
Kevin Ferguson, known better as MMA star Kimbo Slice, died June 6 at age 42. Slice became an early Internet star thanks to viral videos of his unsanctioned street fights, which he parlayed into a mixed martial arts career with Bellator.
Peter Shaffer, Oscar-winning screenwriter, died on June 6 at age 90. Shaffer won two Tony awards for penning the scripts to "Equus" and "Amadeus," the former of which featured Daniel Radcliffe in a 2007 revival at the peak of his "Harry Potter" fame. In 1984, Shaffer won an Oscar for writing the film adaptation of "Amadeus."
Theresa Saldana, star of the film "Raging Bull," died on June 7 at age 61. Along with her performance in Martin Scorsese's famed film, Saldana also received a Golden Globe award in 1994 for her work alongside Michael Chiklis on the show, "The Commish"
Hockey legend Gordie Howe died on June 10 at age 88. Howe is considered by many to be the greatest hockey player ever, winning the Stanley Cup four times with the Detroit Red Wings and scoring over 800 goals. Howe is also known for being featured in an episode of "The Simpsons," when Bart uses Howe's picture as part of a fake love letter to get back at his teacher.
Actor Michu Meszaros died June 13 at age 76. Meszaros is most famous for his work in the NBC sitcom "Alf," where he played the titular alien that lands on Earth and lives with a human family. Outside of the Alf suit, he gained fame for playing the creepy butler Hans in the cult horror film, "Waxwork."
Actor Anton Yelchin, who appeared in Paramount's "Star Trek" reboot series, died on June 19 at the age of 27. The actor was fatally pinned between his own car and a brick mailbox at his San Fernando Valley home, police confirmed to TheWrap.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and author of dozens of books about his experience as a Holocaust survivor, died July 2 at his Manhattan home at age 87.
Michael Cimino, visionary director of movies such as "The Deer Hunter" and "Heaven's Gate," died on July 2 at age 77. "The Deer Hunter" won five Oscars including Best Picture for its depiction of traumatized Vietnam War soldiers, while "Heaven's Gate" got panned upon first release but later received critical acclaim when Cimino's uncut version was released in 2012.
Robin Hardy, director of the British cult classic "The Wicker Man," died on July 2 at age 86. Since its release in 1973, "The Wicker Man" has become known as one of the finest works in the history of British cinema. Its lead actor, Christopher Lee, called it the the best film he ever worked on. In May 2016, the band Radiohead released a stop-motion rendition of "The Wicker Man" as a music video for their single, "Burn The Witch."
Garry Marshall, creator of "Happy Days," died on July 19 at age 81. In addition to Happy Days, Marshall's filmography included movies like "Pretty Woman" and "The Princess Diaries."
Youree Dell Harris, a.k.a. TV psychic Miss Cleo, died of colon cancer on July 26 at age 53. Miss Cleo became famous for her TV infomercials in the 90s, though she also was hit with a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission over deceptive advertising charges.
James Nederlander, owner of Hollywood's Pantages Theatre, died July 26 at age 94. Nederlander has produced over 100 plays and owns several major theatres, including the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where "Hamilton" opened on Broadway.
Gloria DeHaven, star of Hollywood's Golden Age, passed away July 31 at age 91. DeHaven made her debut alongside Charlie Chaplin in the legendary Little Tramp film "Modern Times." She went on to become a big star in various MGM musicals alongside contemporaries like Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Fred Astaire.
David Huddleston, star of "The Big Lebowski," died Aug. 4 at age 85. Huddleston played the titular Jeffrey Lebowski, whom Jeff Bridges' "Dude" Lebowski crosses paths with when two brutes attack the Dude because he shares the same name with the wheelchair-bound millionaire.
Sagan Lewis, star of "St. Elsewhere," died of cancer on Aug. 9 at age 63. Before taking the role of Dr. Jacqueline Hyde in the hit 80s medical drama, Lewis had an appearance on the famed series finale of "M*A*S*H".
John Saunders, longtime ESPN anchor, died Aug. 10 at age 61. Saunders' 30-year career at ESPN began with an anchor job on "SportsCenter." He went on to cover major sports events on ABC and host the Sunday morning press panel show "Sports Reporters"
Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2-D2 in "Star Wars," died Aug. 13 at age 83. Baker played the famous droid in the original and prequel "Star Wars" trilogies. Ironically, he had an acrimonious relationship with Anthony Daniels, who played R2's beloved companion, C-3PO.
John McLaughlin, host of the political panel show "The McLaughlin Group," passed away Aug. 16 at age 89. The last episode aired prior to his death was the first McLaughlin had missed since the show's debut in 1982.
Arthur Hiller, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, died Aug. 17 at age 92. Hiller was nominated for an Oscar in 1970 for "Love Story" and received the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2001. In between, he served as DGA president from 1989-1993 and Academy president from 1993-1997.
Steven Hill, star of "Law and Order," died on Aug. 23 at age 94. Hill reached TV stardom in the 90s as District Attorney Adam Schiff on Dick Wolf's famed crime show, receiving two Emmy nominations during his tenure. Hill was the longest serving member of the show's original cast, playing Schiff for ten seasons.
Gene Wilder, star of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," died on Aug. 28 at age 83. Wilder was a longtime collaborator with Mel Brooks, working together on films like "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein," and "The Producers," the last of which earned Wilder a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as the antsy accountant Leo Bloom.
Jerry Heller, manager of N.W.A., died Sept. 3 at age 75. Heller had a turbulent relationship with several members of the famed rap group and filed a defamation suit against Dr. Dre after he was negatively portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the film "Straight Outta Compton."
Alexis Arquette, actress and LGBT activist, died Sept. 11 at age 47. Born Robert Arquette, she made her transition in 2006 and became a vocal supporter for other trans men and women.
Edward Albee, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, died Sept. 16 at age 88. Albee won three Pulitzers in his long career, but his most famous play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," was rejected by the Pulitzer board for its vulgarity.
Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer passed away on Sept. 25 at age 87. Palmer is considered one of the greatest in his sport, winning seven majors from 1958 to 1964 at the dawn of golf's television age. Along with Jack Nicklaus, he is credited with bringing golf to a national audience.
Kevin Meaney, the veteran comedian who briefly starred in the TV adaptation “Uncle Buck,” died Oct. 21 at the age of 60. One of the breakout stars of the 1980s comedy boom, Meaney appeared on shows including “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night With David Letterman.”
Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General, died on Nov. 7 from complications due to Parkinson's. She was 78 years old.
Leonard Cohen, the singer and songwriter best known for the anthem “Hallelujah,” died Nov. 10 at the age of 82. He had been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Robert Vaughn, who played secret agent Napoleon Solo on the 1960s spy comedy series “Man From U.N.C.L.E.," died Nov. 11 at 83 from complications from acute leukemia. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his breakthrough role in “The Young Philadelphians” in 1959, and appeared on shows including “Bonanza,” “Law & Order,” “The A-Team” and “Hawaii Five-O” and films like “Superman III,” “The Magnificent Seven” and “Bullitt.”
Leon Russell, the rock singer/songwriter who worked with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker, died in his sleep in his Nashville home on August 12.
Gwen Ifill, the host of "PBS NewsHour," died on Nov. 14 at the age of 61 after a battle with cancer. She hosted multiple vice presidential debates and made history as part of the first all-female nightly news anchor team alongside Judy Woodruff.
"Brady Bunch" star Florence Henderson died Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day, at the age of 82. She worked on both stage and screen before winning worldwide fame as Carol Brady, the widowed mother of three girls and stepmom to three boys, on the iconic ABC series, which ran from 1969 to 1974.
Peter Vaughan, star of "Game of Thrones," died Dec. 6 at age 93. Vaughan is best known for playing Maester Aemon Targaryen, mentor to Jon Snow and advisor to the Commander of the Night's Watch. Before "Game of Thrones," Vaughan had a successful career in England collaborating with actors like Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
Alan Thicke, star of "Growing Pains," died Dec. 13 at age 69. Thicke became one of the most famous sitcom dad on TV during his seven-year band as Dr. Jason Seaver. His son, Robin, became a star in his own right with the song "Blurred Lines."
Craig Sager, NBA sideline reporter, died Dec. 15 at age 65. Sager was popular among NBA fans and players for his colorful, garish outfits during his tenure at TNT. Sager received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at this year's ESPYs in honor of his long struggle with leukemia.
Zsa Zsa Gabor, actress and Hollywood socialite, died Dec. 18 at age 99. After appearing in several musicals and popular TV shows in the 50s and 60s, Gabor became known as one of Hollywood's most famous and outspoken socialites, appearing frequently on talk shows and the original "Hollywood Squares."
Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt died in a hospital in Marbella, Spain on December 23 at age 68. The band best known for hits “Rockin’ All Over The World” and “Whatever You Want."
George Michael, the British singer-songwriter who emerged as half of the pop duo Wham! in the 1980s, died on December 25 at age 53. He became a true pop icon after going solo in 1987, when his album “Faith” sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. In the span of his career, he sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
Carrie Fisher, a.k.a. Leia Organa of "Star Wars," died Dec. 27 at age 60. Fisher rose to stardom as the Alderaan princess turned rebellion leader who fought alongside Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Fisher returned to the role in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and will appear posthumously in the film's 2017 sequel.
Richard Adams, author of "Watership Down," died Dec. 27 at age 96. Published in 1972, "Watership Down" and its tale of a society of rabbits became an international success and was adapted in 1978 into an equally successful animated film that carried over the source material's dark and violent subject matter.
Debbie Reynolds, star of "Singin' in the Rain," died Dec. 28 at age 84, one day after the passing of her daughter Carrie Fisher. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and in 2016 won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
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A look back at the stars of movies, TV, media and music we lost this year