Mike Nichols, who died on Nov. 19 at age 83 in New York, might have gone down as one of the great directors in Hollywood history based upon his first two films alone.
His 1966 adaptation of the Edward Albee play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was nominated for 13 Oscars and won five. His second, 1967’s The Graduate, won him the Best Director statuette, and its witty, provocative send-up of upper-middle-class mores — set to a Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack — resonated so strongly with boomers that “plastics” became a meme for a generation’s discontents. Even before he turned to directing films, Nichols had already won two Tony awards as a Broadway director.
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Here are some other facts about Nichols’ life and career.
- He was born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky on Nov. 6, 1931, in Berlin, the son of a Russian Jewish physician who fled to America to escape the Nazis in 1938.
- After a bad reaction to whooping-cough vaccine left him hairless at age 4, he was forced to master the use of toupees and false eyebrows, according to a 2012 New York magazine profile.
- The first play he directed — William Butler Yeats’ Purgatory — starred his University of Chicago classmate Edward Asner.
- In Chicago, he also met his longtime writing and improvisational comedy partner, Elaine May, whom he charmed by sitting down next to her at a train station and feigning a foreign accent.
- Nichols directed 22 films, from dark satires such as Catch-22 (1970) and romantic farces such as Working Girl (1988) and The Birdcage (1996) to dramas such as Silkwood (1983).
- On the stage, he won nine Tonys — including one in 2012 at age 80 for directing a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
- He also turned to cable television and won two directorial Emmys for Wit in 2001 and Angels in America in 2003.
- Nichols married four times, most recently to ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer in 1988.
- Despite his success, Nichols struggled with depression at various times in his life.
- He had an acting role in The Sopranos as a psychiatrist but quit after three days. He later explained: “It was a good part ... but I was ‘acting.’ I told [show creator] David Chase, ‘Forgive me, I’m the wrong Jew.’ ”
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Here’s a video clip of Nichols accepting a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute in 2010.
Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images
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