Michael Winner, the British filmmaker best known in America for the “Death Wish” movies starring Charles Bronson, died Monday at his home in London, his wife Geraldine announced.
Winner was 77 and had been in failing health for some time with heart and liver difficulties, Reuters reported.
A man with an acerbic wit and eclectic talent and tastes, Winner collected antiques and rare books and was also a popular food critic for the Times of London in his later years.
A bon vivant, his column was called “Winner’s Dinners” was a no-holds barred look at London restaurants. He was often barred from an establishment after a particularly harsh critique. His last column was published on Dec. 2.
But he is best remembered for making 30 films and directing some of the bigger names in acting, including Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum, Faye Dunaway and Michael Caine. His attention to detail was noteworthy as he often wrote, produced, directed and edited his films.
In March 2011, the American Cinematheque mounted a tribute to Winner in Los Angeles, showing six of his films over three days with Winner appearing each day.
Born in London on Oct. 30, 1935, Winner’s teen years included writing an newspaper column on entertainment that, according to his website, appeared in more than two dozen local newspapers. He attended Cambridge University, where he studied law and economics. By the mid-1950s, he had embarked on a filmmaking career, making shorts and documentaries.
He moved to feature films in the 1960s, making two notable comedies with Oliver Reed — "The Jokers" and "I'll Never Forget What's'isname."
His association with Bronson started with “Chato’s Land” in 1972, and then the crime films “The Mechanic” and “The Stone Killers,” both released in 1973, before “Death Wish,” which became a popular box-office franchise of three films.
The release of “Death Wish” in 1974 spawned controversy for its portrayal of vigilante justice and gun violence in America. Winner defending the movie, telling the Big Issue charity publication last year that “Death Wish was an epoch-making film… the first film in the history of cinema where the hero kills other civilians.”
He also noted that Quentin Tarantino, himself no stranger to violence in films, has put it on his list of top 10 films.
A strong law-and-order advocate, Winner funded the police memorial trust in London to honor officers killed in the line of duty. More than 50 officers have been honored by the trust.
Winner was offered an OBE in the Queen's honors' list in 2006 for the police campaign, Reuters reported, but he turned it down, saying: "An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King's Cross station."