John G. Avildsen, the iconic movie director who made a star out of Sylvester Stallone and brought the first three Karate Kid films to theaters, has died at age 81. Avildsen, who won an Academy Award for directing the first Rocky movie in 1977, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a battle with pancreatic cancer, according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times.
John Avildsen was the man behind some of the biggest films of the 1970s and ’80s, including the 1970 Susan Sarandon-Peter Boyle drama Joe, the original Rocky film, and the trio of Karate Kid movies. But when the script for the boxing film Rocky landed on his desk in the mid-1970s, Avildsen admitted it wasn’t initially his cup of tea.
“When this script [also 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,” John G. Avildsen told the Baltimore Sun in 2016. John revealed that his friend begged him to read through the script and by the third page he was smitten with the Rocky character and his turtles, Cuff and Link.
“I was charmed by it,” Avildsen told The Sun. “And I thought it was an excellent character study and a beautiful love story. And I said yes.”
It was a good thing he did. John G. Avildsen’s film about an underdog boxer would go on to make Sylvester Stallone a household name and earn the director his first Academy Award. John and Sylvester would reunite four sequels later for Rocky V.
In the 1980s, Avildsen went on to direct newcomer Ralph Macchio and seasoned star Pat Morita in the Karate Kid franchise, churning out a series of hit films about a young martial artist in 1984, 1986, and 1989.
Both Sylvester Stallone and Ralph Macchio issued statements following the death of John G. Avildsen. In statements to the Hollywood Reporter, the actors credited John G. Avildsen for changing their lives. Both Stallone and Macchio also took to social media to pay tribute to Avildsen, their longtime mentor and friend.
Stallone captioned a photo from the Rocky set with the message: “The great director John G. Avildsen who won the Oscar for directing Rocky! R. I. P. I’m sure you will soon be directing Hits in Heaven- Thank you, Sly”
Macchio also considered Avildsen a lifelong friend and one of the biggest influences on his career. The actor captioned a collage of photos of himself with the late director, writing that John “brought inspirational stories to us all and had a guiding hand in changing my life.”
RIP to my friend and KK director John G Avildsen. He brought inspirational stories to us all and had a guiding hand in changing my life. pic.twitter.com/TRobJn3pq2
— Ralph Macchio (@ralphmacchio) June 17, 2017
In addition, Stallone’s Rocky foe-turned-friend, Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed in the film series) posted a remembrance about John G. Avildsen to Twitter, reminding everyone that the late director’s iconic film legacy has been left behind for us all to enjoy.
John Avildsen RIP. Your filmmaking legacy remains. #BeLove
— Carl Weathers (@TheCarlWeathers) June 17, 2017
Take a look at the video below to see John G. Avildsen winning the Oscar for Best Directing for Rocky at the 49th Academy Awards in 1977.
[Featured Image AP Photo/File/AP Images]