Satirist filmmaker Robert Altman, whose highly regarded films include "Nashville," "M*A*S*H," "The Player," "Gosford Park" and "A Prairie Home Companion," has died at the age of 81.
The multiple Oscar nominee who received an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar earlier this year died on Monday night, Nov. 20, in Los Angeles. The cause of death has yet to be released.
Robert Bernard Altman was born in Kansas City, Missouri on February 20, 1925 into a devoutly Catholic family. After high school, he attended Wentworth Military Academy and then became a bomber in the Army Air Forces during World War II. After trying his hand at writing, he turned to making industrial films for the Calvin Company for almost six years. He went back and forth from the Calvin Company to Hollywood, always trying to get his break doing more creative work, and in 1955, he left the indusrial film business for good.
His first feature film was 1957's "The Delinquents," and he followed this with TV work, direcing "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "Bonanza" episodes.
He struggled for many years in filmmaking, until 1970, when he directed the critically acclaimed and successful "M*A*S*H." This film also developed his signature style, in which large ensemble casts would interact using improvisational, often overlapping dialogue.
The Korean War comedy also spawned a long-running TV series of the same name, which Altman disliked because of what he felt was a money-driven motivation to promote an Asian war to the American public. "M*A*S*H" was Altman's biggest box office success and starred Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall and Tom Skerritt, among others. Altman received his first Oscar nomination for directing the film.
He followed this with "Brewster McCloud," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "The Long Goodbye" and "Thieves Like Us." 1975's "Nashville" earned him two additional Oscar nomination for directing and best picture.
Another strange spell followed, in which he directed numerous films, including a big screen "Popeye," which actually did well enough at the box office. His career was revived once again in 1992 with the Hollywood satire "The Player" and "Shortcuts" a year later, bringing him yet another couple of best director nominations.
The tepidly received "Pret a Porter," "Cookie's Fortune" and "Dr. T and the Women" filled the space before his next great success, "Gosford Park." This time, Altman brought his caustic wit to England for a 1930s murder mystery that earned six Oscar nominations, including best director, best picture, and best supporting actress for both Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. It won for its best original screenplay. It was Altman's biggest box office success since "M*A*S*H."
In 2006, he tried his hand at bringing Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show to the big screen as a fictionalized account of what it's like behind the scenes. The film stars Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones and Virginia Madsen. His most recent project in the works was inspired by the documentary "Hands on a Hard Body," about a Texas endurance contest in which the last person standing with a hand on a new Nissan Hardbody truck wins the vehicle.
Besides his film style, Altman is respected for being an "actor's director" and for constantly challenging Hollywood. Both "M*A*S*H" and "Nashville" have been preserved in the United States National Film Registry.
The director racked up numerous other awards, including BAFTA, Golden Globe and AFI wins for "Gosford Park," a Cannes Film Festival win for directing "The Player" and an Emmy for directing an episode of "Tanner '88." During his acceptance speech for his honorary Oscar, he revealed that he had received a heart transplant about a decade earlier.
Altman is survived by his wife Kathryn, their two sons Robert and Matthew, stepdaughter Konni, and three other children from two previous marriages.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun