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Oscar-winning director Michael Cimino dies at age of 77

By Staff Reporter

Published 04/07/2016

Director Michael Cimino, left, talks with actor Robert De Niro (wearing beret) during a break in the filming of The Deer Hunter. (AP Photo/Neal Ulevich, File)
Director Michael Cimino, left, talks with actor Robert De Niro (wearing beret) during a break in the filming of The Deer Hunter. (AP Photo/Neal Ulevich, File)

Michael Cimino, the Oscar-winning director whose film The Deer Hunter became one of the great triumphs of Hollywood's 1970s heyday, and whose disastrous Heaven's Gate helped bring that era to a close, has died, aged 77.

Cimino, who had been living in Beverly Hills, died on Saturday.

Eric Weissmann, a friend and former lawyer of Cimino's, said friends had been unable to reach him by phone in the last few days and called the police, who found him dead in his bed.

He said Cimino had not been ill that he had known of.

Cimino's masterpiece was 1978's The Deer Hunter, a story of the Vietnam War's effect on a small steel-working town in Pennsylvania.

The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Cimino. It helped such emerging acting talents as Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Christopher Walken, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

"Our work together is something I will always remember. He will be missed," De Niro said of Cimino. Cimino's emerging career then took a U-turn with the 1980 movie Heaven's Gate, a Western starring Kris Kristofferson and Walken that was a critical and financial disaster.

Its initial budget of $11.5m would balloon to $44m after marketing. While those numbers are meagre by today's standards, at the time they were enough to hasten the demise of United Artists, and of Cimino's career.

He became an eccentric figure even for Hollywood, living in solitude, constantly changing his appearance, claiming allergies to both alcohol and sunshine.

Born in New York City, Cimino graduated from Yale in 1961. His first film was Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in 1974, starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges.

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