Michael Cimino, the director of 1978 Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter, died on Saturday, July 2, his longtime friend and former lawyer, Eric Weissmann, confirmed to The New York Times. He was 77.
According to Weissmann, police found Cimino’s body at his Los Angeles home on Saturday after friends were unable to reach him by phone. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
The two-time Oscar winner directed eight films in his lifetime but is perhaps best known for the back-to-back success and failure of The Deer Hunter and his 1980 frontier flick, Heaven’s Gate, respectively.
The Deer Hunter, which starred Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and John Cazale, followed a group of friends from Pennsylvania and showed the impact of the Vietnam War on their lives. (The film was one of Streep's earliest roles and helped put her on the Hollywood map.)
Cimino and the film won critical acclaim, with nine Oscar nominations and five wins, including the coveted award for Best Picture.
“Our work together is something I will always remember,” De Niro said in a statement to Variety. “He will be missed.”
Following the success of The Deer Hunter, however, Cimino’s next project, Heaven’s Gate, brought his star crashing down. The film, which was an epic that ran more than five hours long, was over budget, too complex and behind schedule, according to critics.
Cimino was born in New York City and raised in Long Island. Prior to his career as a film director, he directed TV commercials for Kool cigarettes, Pepsi and United Airlines, among others, Variety reports.
His other films include 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, starring Jeff Bridges, and 1987’s The Sicilian.
He has no survivors.
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