May 27, 2008 / 1:34 AM / 11 years ago

Sydney Pollack dies in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - 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.

Producer-director Sydney Pollack at the 59th Cannes Film Festival in a May 2006 photo. Pollack, who earned an Oscar for the epic romance "Out of Africa" and also won praise as an occasional actor, died on Monday at age 73, after a battle with cancer, The New York Times reported. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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.

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 left the project 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 started out as an acting coach and TV director, 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 Honor” as actor Patrick Dempsey’s serial-dating father.


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.”

But Streisand praised him in a statement as “a great actor’s director ... And he was a very good friend, someone I even shared secrets with.”

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 reunited with Redford five years later for the flop “Havana.” 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.”

Slideshow (14 Images)

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.

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.

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

Additional reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Doina Chiacu and Todd Eastham

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