Schlesinger taken off life support

Director who was key figure in British new wave cinema

Film director John Schlesinger, a key figure in British film in the sixties and seventies, was yesterday taken off life support at a hospital near his home in Palm Springs, California. He suffered a stroke at the end of 2001 from which he had never fully recovered.

The Oscar-winning director of Midnight Cowboy, Darling, A Kind of Loving, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, Billy Liar, Marathon Man and Far From the Madding Crowd, was with his partner of 37 years, the photographer, Michael Childers, when life support was turned off.

He was admitted to hospital earlier this week after suffering breathing difficulties.

Schlesinger's stroke, which affected his ability to speak, had come as he was hoping to pass on his knowledge to young film-makers through the Sundance Institute.

Last year, Bafta held a special ceremony in Los Angeles to present Schlesinger with a lifetime achievement award. He was too ill to attend, and the event became part farewell, part epitaph, with tributes, both live and taped, from friends and admirers who included actors Dustin Hoffman, Vanessa Redgrave, Sally Field, Richard Gere and Alan Bates, directors Francis Ford Coppola, Nicolas Roeg, and Steven Soderbergh, and singers Placido Domingo and Paul McCartney.

Hoffman, who persuaded Schlesinger to cast him in Midnight Cowboy, read a moving acceptance speech that Schlesinger had written, in which he said: "I have had the best of all possible worlds. How exciting my life has been ... I have indeed been a lucky man."

In his speech, Schlesinger said: "In my next life, maybe I'll be what I set out to be in this one, an architect."

He was a prize-winning documentary-maker at the BBC, a magician and an actor before his career as a director began. He lamented the fact that the film-making world had changed so that films such as Midnight Cowboy would probably not have been made today.

In the tribute, Julie Christie, who appeared in three of his films, said: "What John has done is break taboos in the form of beautiful films."

Sally Field described working with him as "one of the glowing treasures of my career and my life".

Hoffman called the director "the most courageous person out there ... He loved actors more than anyone I ever worked with". He called on the director not to "go gentle into that good night".

In the same tribute, Alan Bates said: "I'm proud to have been part of his extraordinary career. His work will live."

With Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz, Schlesinger, son of a paediatrician, was part of the new wave that transformed British films in the sixties. A Kind of Loving was his first feature film in 1962 and he won many prizes for Darling, his 1965 take on "swinging London".

He took best director and best film Oscars for the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy, and explored personal relationships in ways that had not previously been attempted.

The changing climate in Hollywood meant there had increasingly been less room for his form of personal films. But he also directed opera and continued to make such films as Pacific Heights and Cold Comfort Farm.

His last film was The Next Best Thing, with Madonna, in 2000.


Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles

The GuardianTramp

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