Mike Nichols, director of The Graduate, dies at 83

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MIKE Nichols, the Oscar-winning theatre and film director, has died at the age of 83.

The German-born US director was one of just 12 people to win all four major American entertainment awards - an Emmy, Tony, Grammy and Oscar.

Mike Nichols and his wife Diane Sawyer arrive at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2010. Picture: AP

Mike Nichols and his wife Diane Sawyer arrive at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2010. Picture: AP

He picked up Oscar nominations for his work on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; The Graduate; Working Girl; Silkwood and his final film, Charlie Wilson’s War, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.


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The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross, received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, which Nichols won.

In 2012, he won the Tony award for Best Direction of a Play for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

During a career spanning more than 50 years, Nichols managed to be both an insider and outsider, an occasional White House guest and friend to countless celebrities who was as likely to satirise the elite as he was to mingle with them.

A former stand-up performer who began his career in a ground-breaking comedy duo with Elaine May and whose work brought him an Academy Award, a Grammy and multiple Tony and Emmy honours, Nichols had a remarkable gift for mixing edgy humour and dusky drama.

“No one was more passionate than Mike,” Goldston wrote in an email announcing Nichols’ death.

His 1966 film directing debut “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” captured the vicious yet sparkling and sly dialogue of Edward Albee’s play, as a couple (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) torment each other over deep-seated guilt and resentment.

“Angels in America,” the 2003 TV miniseries adapted from the stage sensation, blended rich pathos and whimsy in its portrait of people coping with AIDS and looking to the heavens for compassion they found lacking in Ronald Reagan’s 1980s America.

Similarly, Nichols’ 2001 TV adaptation of the play “Wit” packed biting levity within the stark story of a college professor dying of ovarian cancer.

Nichols, who won directing Emmys for both “Angels in America” and “Wit,” said he liked stories about the real lives of real people and that humour inevitably pervades even the bleakest of such tales.

“I have never understood people dividing things into dramas and comedies,” Nichols said in a 2004 interview. “There are more laughs in `Hamlet’ than many Broadway comedies.”

He was a wealthy, educated man who often mocked those just like him, never more memorably than in “The Graduate,” which shot Dustin Hoffman to fame in the 1967 story of an earnest young man rebelling against his elders’ expectations.

Nichols himself would say that he identified with Hoffman’s awkward, perpetually flustered Benjamin Braddock.

Mixing farce and Oedipal drama, Nichols managed to capture a generation’s discontent without ever mentioning Vietnam, civil rights or any other issues of the time. But young people laughed hard when a family friend advised Benjamin that the road to success was paved with “plastics” or at Benjamin’s lament that he felt like life was “some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”

At the time, Nichols was “just trying to make a nice little movie,” he recalled in 2005 at a retrospective screening of “The Graduate.” “It wasn’t until when I saw it all put together that I realised this was something remarkable.”

Nichols won the best-director Oscar for “The Graduate,” which co-starred Anne Bancroft as an ageing temptress pursuing Hoffman, whose character responds with the celebrated line, “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.”

Divorced three times, Nichols married TV journalist Diane Sawyer in 1988. He admitted in 2013 that many of his film and stage projects explored a familiar, naughty theme.

“I keep coming back to it, over and over - adultery and cheating,” he says. “It’s the most interesting problem in the theatre. How else do you get Oedipus? That’s the first cheating in the theatre.”

The family will hold a private service this week; a memorial will be held at a later date, Goldston said.


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