Date: 28th July 2003

Film director Schlesinger dies

British film director John Schlesinger, whose Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy and thrillers like The Falcon and the Snowman explored lonely underdogs in modern society, has died.

The filmmaker had a debilitating stroke in December 2000, and his condition deteriorated significantly in recent weeks. He was 77.
He was taken off life support in a hospital in Palm Springs, California, yesterday and died early today, spokeswoman Eva Saltonstall said.

Schlesinger broke ground with 1969's Midnight Cowboy, which starred Jon Voight as a naive Texan who turns to prostitution to survive in New York and Dustin Hoffman as the inadequate, ailing vagrant Ratso Rizzo.

The film's homosexual theme was regarded as scandalous, but the tale of underdogs trying to survive was embraced by critics and Hollywood despite its shocking sequences.

After Midnight Cowboy he explored homosexuality again in his next project with 1971's Sunday Bloody Sunday, which starred Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson as acquaintances who each reluctantly share a love for the same young man. The director received another Oscar nomination for the film.

Schlesinger established himself as one of England's most promising young directors with the 1962 A Kind of Loving, which starred Alan Bates as a man who marries his pregnant lover only to find himself ill-prepared for commitments.

He followed that with 1963's Billy Liar, about a lazy young man who hides from responsibility by daydreaming - one of his dreams is about a young woman played by then-newcomer Julie Christie.

Film director Michael Winner said Schlesinger's death was "a great loss", and paid tribute to his work.

"His contribution to British cinema in the '60s was supreme. Nobody made a greater contribution," he said.

"The thing that distinguished his films was his love and care for the underdog, for people who couldn't make life work."

Source: Press Release