Michael Cimino, who won Oscars for director and best picture for the seminal Vietnam War movie of the 1970s The Deer Hunter, has died. He was 77. He was found dead Saturday after friends called the police when they couldn’t reach him.
Thierry Fremaux, Cannes Film Festival director, tweeted the news Saturday that Cimino died in peace surrounded by those close to him and the two women who loved him. “We loved him too,” wrote Fremaux.
Cimino also directed ‘Thunderbolt & Lightfoot’ and the misunderstood epic and financial failure ‘Heaven’s Gate’. The latter incinerated the director’s career and changed the way movies are made towards more studio control of film production. Somehow with the passage of time, Heaven’s Gate is considered by many to be a masterpiece.
Michael Cimino was born in New York City on February 3, 1939. His father was a music publisher. He graduated from Westbury High School on Long Island in 1956. He later entered Michigan State University where majored in graphic arts. At the university, he became an art director and later managing editor of the school’s humor magazine Spartan. He was later accepted in Yale and also enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve.
In the early 70s, Cimino moved to Los Angeles to pursue a screenwriting career, subsequently getting representation from the prestigious Hollywood-based talent agency William Morris Agency. His Thunderbolt and Lightfoot script was bought by Clint Eastwood and allowed Cimino to direct with Eastwood himself as starring in the film. The film was a resounding boxoffice success and earned co-star Jeff Bridges an Academy Award Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Cimino went on to direct the The Deer Hunter (1978), considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made. In 1996, The Deer Hunter was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
After the massive success of The Deer Hunter came the low-point of his career, Heaven’s Gate, a boxoffice and critical failure which put his career on a halt, and he never recovered since. The Heaven’s Gate debacle was chronicled in a 1999 book written by former UA executive Steven Bach, Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists.
The high and low of Cimino’s career is so extreme that it has become a cautionary tale about the struggle between artists and executives in Hollywood.