Sydney Pollack dies of cancer at age 73
LOS ANGELES – Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack, a Hollywood mainstay who achieved commercial success and critical acclaim with the gender-bending comedy “Tootsie” and the period drama “Out of Africa, has died. He was 73.
Pollack died of cancer Monday afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, surrounded by family, said his publicist, Leslee Dart. He had been diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago, Dart said.
Pollack, who occasionally appeared on the screen himself, worked with and gained the respect of Hollywood’s best actors in a long career that reached prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act,” actor George Clooney said in a statement issued by his publicist.
“He’ll be missed terribly,” Clooney said.
Last fall, Pollack played Marty Bach opposite Clooney in “Michael Clayton,” a drama that examines the life of fixer for lawyers. The film, which Pollack co-produced, received seven Oscar nominations, including best picture and a best actor nod for Clooney. Tilda Swinton won the Oscar for supporting actress.
Pollack was no stranger to the Academy Awards. In 1986, “Out of Africa” a romantic epic of a woman’s passion set against the landscape of colonial Kenya, captured seven Oscars, including best director.
Over the years, several of his other films, including “Tootsie” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” got several nominations, including best director nods.
Pollack’s movies frequently had some of Hollywood’s best actors: “Absence of Malice” with Sally Field and Paul Newman, “The Yakuza” with Robert Mitchum, “Three Days of the Condor” with Robert Redford, and “The Firm” with Tom Cruise, among others.
In later years, he devoted increasing time to acting, appearing in Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives,” Robert Altman’s “The Player,” Robert Zemeckis’ “Death Becomes Her,” and Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Pollack’s recent producing credits include “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain.” His last screen appearance was in “Made of Honor,” a romantic comedy currently in theaters, where he played the oft-married father of star Patrick Dempsey’s character.
In recent years, Pollack produced many independent films with filmmaker Anthony Minghella and a production company Mirage Enterprises.
The Lafayette, Ind. native was born to first-generation Russian-Americans.
In high school, he fell in love with theater, a passion that prompted him forego college and move to New York and enroll in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater.
“We started together in New York and he always excelled at everything he set out to do, his friendships and his humanity as much as his talents,” Martin Landau, a longtime close friend of Pollack’s and an associate from the Actor’s Studio, said through spokesman Dick Guttman.
Studying under Sanford Meisner, Pollack spent several years cutting his teeth in various areas of theater, eventually becoming Meisner’s assistant.
After appearing in a handful of Broadway productions in the 1950s, Pollack turned his eye to directing, where he would ultimately leave his biggest mark. But Pollack, who stood over six feet tall and had a striking presence on the screen, never totally gave up acting.
At the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival, Pollack said “Tootsie” star Dustin Hoffman pushed him into playing the actor’s exasperated agent.
Pollack said Hoffman repeatedly sent him roses with a note reading, “Please be my agent. Love, Dorothy,” ó a reference to the lead character’s female persona, Dorothy Michaels. At that point, Pollack hadn’t acted in 20 years.
“Most of the great directors that I know of were not actors, so I can’t tell you it’s a requirement,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s an enormous help.”
In the 1982 movie, Hoffman plays an out-of-work actor who pretends to be a woman to land a role on a soap opera.
“I didn’t think anyone would believe him as a woman,” Pollack said. “But the world did, they went crazy.”
Pollack is survived by his wife, Claire; two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; his brother Bernie; and six grandchildren.
Sydney Pollack dies of cancer at age 73