According to family, the director had been fighting pancreatic cancer before finally succumbing tom it. In a statement, his son Anthony Avildsen described him as an extraordinary man who was super talented and very stubborn, which was like a double-edged quality about him.
Rocky proved to be as much of an underdog success story as the fictional Philadelphia boxer Rocky Balboa portrayed by Stallone, who wrote the screenplay. That film also impressed Frank Capra, who was incidentally Avildsen's favourite director. And although anyone would be fortunate to have made such a fantastic motion picture, even once in their lives, Rocky has perhaps overshadowed numerous filmmaker's other great accomplishments.
Avildsen took the Rocky job only because funding fell through for another movie he was set to direct. It was a box-office failure and got a bad response from critics.
"The Karate Kid" was another surprise hit.
In 2006 Variety interviewed Avildsen, who said that a film with a boxing story didn't excite him at first, but he was "moved by the urban character study of Sylvester Stallone's script". He also had directed seven actors to Oscar success.
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But he relented and directed both The Karate Kid, Part II in 1986 and The Karate Kid, Part III in 1989. An all-rounder, Avildsen was also a cinemtographer and editor. A few years later, he would direct Jack Lemmon to a Best Actor Oscar with 1973's Save the Tiger. "Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans", the statement said.
He came from a humble background and even worked in the Army.
Besides Anthony, Avidsen is survived by two other sons, Jonathan and Ashley, and a daughter, Bridget. The documentary is a companion to the book "The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Other Underdogs", written by Larry Powell and Tom Garrett.
The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.
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