The one and only oscar-winning John G. Avildsen, whose “Rocky” sent a shot of arousal through movie theaters and turned Sylvester Stallone into one of cinema’s most remarkable boxers, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 81.

Honors And Legacy

Avildsen was a genius master at his field. He won best director for “Rocky” (1976), the tale of Rocky Balboa’s gritty and unlikely transcendence from the streets of South Philadelphia, and was also known for “The Karate Kid” (1984), the story of a restless teenager and his Okinawan martial arts mentor. Avildsen was also known for nuanced portraits of characters caught in the difficulties of their times.

His “Save the Tiger” (1973), which won Jack Lemmon an Academy Award for best actor, was the story of a garment manufacturer who burns down his company for insurance money. In “Joe” (1970), Peter Boyle starred as a racist factory worker and iconoclast in an exploration of hippies and murder that touched on the nation’s changing cultures.

Avildsen discussed social problems, unexpected relationships and the soreness and forgiveness that run through life. “Lean on Me” (1989) cast Morgan Freeman as a New Jersey school principal trying to help students stay clear of violence and drugs.

“Neighbors” (1981) starred John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as desperate middle-aged neighbors in a comedy that captured the insecurities and eccentricities of suburbia. Avildsen has three sons ‘Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley’ and a daughter, Bridget.

‘Rocky Balboa’ was his film about a boxer that sent a shot of adrenaline through the nation, “Rocky” entered the consciousness at a time America was shaken difficult events such as the Vietnam War and was trying to find its way as the radicalism of the 1960s settled into the uncertain 1970s.

Extraordinary Insight

The Hollywood Reporter in its review credited Avildsen with “extraordinary insight, and an even more extraordinary feeling for the rhythm and pace of his film, ‘Rocky’ is a picture that should make movie history.”

Last year, Avildsen told the Baltimore Sun about his initial rejection of “Rocky”: “When this script came to me from an old friend … I said I had no interest in boxing, I think boxing’s sort of a dumb thing.” he said.

“He pleaded and pleaded, so I finally read the thing and on the second or third page, he’s talking to his turtles, Cuff and Link. I was charmed by it, and I thought it was an excellent character study and a beautiful love story. I said yes.”