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Sydney Pollack dies

Hollywood filmmaker Sydney Pollack, who won a pair of Academy Awards for the epic romance “Out of Africa” and earned praise for acting stints in films including “Tootsie” and “Michael Clayton,” died on Monday after a battle with cancer, his spokeswoman said. He was 73.

During a varied career spanning almost half a century, Pollack directed such stars, as Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in “The Way We Were,” Tom Cruise in “The Firm” and Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie.” Redford starred in seven of his films, including “Out of Africa,” alongside Meryl Streep, and “Three Days of the Condor.”

Pollack died at his home in the coastal Los Angeles suburb of Pacific Palisades at about 5 p.m. local time. He was diagnosed with cancer about 10 months ago, but doctors were never able to determine the primary source of the disease, said spokeswoman Leslee Dart. At the time of the diagnosis, he was directing the HBO movie “Recount,” but handed over the reins of the production in order to seek medical treatment. The political drama about the controversial Florida presidential vote in 2000 premiered on the cable network on Sunday. The tall, curly-haired Indiana native, who worked as an acting coach and TV director before making his feature directing debut in 1965, focused on producing and acting in later years.

He received a best picture Oscar nomination this year for producing the George Clooney legal thriller “Michael Clayton,” in which he had a supporting role as an attorney. He is featured in the newly released romantic comedy “Made of Honour” as actor Patrick Dempsey’s serial-dating father.

 
HAMMER IN THE FOREHEAD

Pollack’s final directing efforts were the 2005 thriller “The Interpreter,” starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, and the 2006 documentary “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” about the famed architect. “Every time I am directing, I question why in God’s name I’m doing it again,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2005. “It’s like hitting yourself in the forehead with a hammer.” Directors Guild of America president Michael Apted saluted Pollack as “the quintessential ‘actor’s director’,” who eschewed cinematic tricks and “let the dialogue and the emotion of a scene speak for itself.”

His biggest triumph was the 1985 drama, “Out of Africa.” Streep played the Danish owner of a coffee plantation in Kenya, and Redford the adventurer with whom she falls in love. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, the film ended up with seven statuettes including Pollack’s Oscars for best picture and director. He followed that film five years later with the drama “Havana,” a critical and commercial flop that also starred Redford, this time as a cynical gambler who becomes involved with a Cuban revolutionary in 1958. Other setbacks included 1995’s remake of “Sabrina” and 1999’s “Random Hearts.”

Still, Pollack scored many more triumphs. The first of his six Oscar nominations was for directing Jane Fonda in the 1969 Depression-era drama “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They.” He also received directing and producing nominations for his 1982 smash “Tootsie,” which starred Dustin Hoffman as a cross-dressing actor. Pollack himself played a small but memorable role as Hoffman’s agent. In one of his more recent roles, Pollack put in a guest turn on the HBO mob drama “The Sopranos” as a former physician imprisoned for killing his family. He also had a recurring part on the NBC sitcom “Will & Grace,” as actor Eric McCormack’s philandering dad. On the big screen, Pollack appeared in Robert Altman’s “The Player,” Robert Zemeckis’ “Death Becomes Her” and Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Born on July 1, 1934 in Lafayette, Indiana, Pollack sought his fortune as an actor in New York City after graduating high school. He studied under Sanford Meisner, and went on to assist the legendary acting coach. He secured acting work in television before moving behind the camera. He made his feature directorial debut in 1965 with “The Slender Thread,” starring Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. By then, he had directed numerous episodes of such popular shows as “Ben Casey” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Claire; two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; and six grandchildren. Services will be private. (Reuters)