Award-winning director Mike Nichols dies at 83

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

57 PHOTOS
Mike Nichols
See Gallery
Award-winning director Mike Nichols dies at 83
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer attend the memorial of Marvin Hamlisch at Peter Jay Sharp Theater on September 18, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer attend 'Frances Ha' premiere at The Museum of Modern Art on May 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Mack/FilmMagic)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 10: Mike Nichols and Emma Thompson arrive at 'TV Land Presents: The AFI Life Achievement Awards Honoring Mike Nichols', June 10, 2010 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The show airs on Saturday, June 26th at 9 PM ET/PT on TV Land during a special presentation of TV Land PRIME. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Mike Nichols and Whoopi Goldberg attend the Casting Society of America's 27th annual Artios Awards Ceremony at District 36 on September 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
Actress/Singer Cher and Honoree Director Mike Nichols arrive at TV Land's 2010 AFI Life Achievement Awards Honoring Mike Nichols at Sony Studios on June 10, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
EAST HAMPTON, NY - OCTOBER 06: Ann Roth and Mike Nichols attend the Tribute To Ann Roth during the 20th Hamptons International Film Festival at Guild Hall on October 6, 2012 in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: (L-R) Andrew Garfield and Mike Nichols attend the 2012 Tony Awards Meet The Nominees reception at The Millennium Broadway Hotel on May 2, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: (L-R) Andrew Garfield, Mike Nichols, Linda Emond and Philip Seymour Hoffman attend the 2012 Tony Awards - Meet The Nominees Press Reception at Millennium Broadway Hotel on May 2, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage for Tony Award Productions)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 12: Directors Mike Nichols and Jason Reitman attend the Film Society of Lincoln Center screening of 'Carnal Knowledge' at the Walter Reade Theater on June 12, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 10: (L-R) Actor Warren Beatty, honoree Mike Nichols and Annette Bening in the audience during the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Mike Nichols held at Sony Pictures Studios on June 10, 2010 in Culver City, California. The AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Mike Nichols will premiere on TV Land on Saturday, June 25 at 9PM ET/PST. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Director Mike Nichols (L) and actress Anne Hathawy chat at the conclusion of the Museum Of Moving Image Salute To Hugh Jackman at Cipriani Wall Street on December 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 10: Actress Meryl Streep (L) and honoree Mike Nichols speak onstage during the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Mike Nichols held at Sony Pictures Studios on June 10, 2010 in Culver City, California. The AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Mike Nichols will premiere on TV Land on Saturday, June 25 at 9PM ET/PST. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 10: Honoree Mike Nichols and son Max Nichols in the audience during the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Mike Nichols held at Sony Pictures Studios on June 10, 2010 in Culver City, California. The AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Mike Nichols will premiere on TV Land on Saturday, June 25 at 9PM ET/PST. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for AFI)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 10: Honoree Mike Nichols speaks onstage during the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Mike Nichols held at Sony Pictures Studios on June 10, 2010 in Culver City, California. The AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Mike Nichols will premiere on TV Land on Saturday, June 25 at 9PM ET/PST. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 10: Honoree Mike Nichols and actress Meryl Streep during the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Mike Nichols held at Sony Pictures Studios on June 10, 2010 in Culver City, California. The AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Mike Nichols will premiere on TV Land on Saturday, June 25 at 9PM ET/PST. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for AFI)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 10: Actresses Meryl Streep (L) and Betty Faria (R) pose with honoree Mike Nichols (C) and with his Life Achievement Award at the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Mike Nichols held at Sony Pictures Studios on June 10, 2010 in Culver City, California. The AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Mike Nichols will premiere on TV Land on Saturday, June 25 at 9PM ET/PST. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
NEW YORK - JUNE 04: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Mike Nichols attend the 'Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love' New York premiere at the Paris Theatre on June 4, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic)
BROOKLYN, NY - FEBRUARY 17: Producer Director Mike Nichols and Actor Kevin Spacey attend the Bridge Project benefit at BAM on February 17, 2009 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Mark Von Holden/WireImage)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 11: Mike Nichols, Fergie and Jeremy Piven pose backstage at 'Speed the Plow' on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre on November 11, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - APRIL 14: (L-R) Uma Thurman, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Mike Nichols, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci and Garrison Keillor attend the 35th Annual Film Society of Lincoln Center Gala Tribute to Meryl Streep on April 14, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 12: (L-R) Director Mike Nichols, actress Julia Roberts, (recipient of the 22nd Annual American Cinematheque Award) and actor Tom Hanks attend the presentation ceremony held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 12, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Eric Idle, Paul Simon, and Mike Nichols (Photo by Scott Suchman/WireImage)
David Hyde Pierce, Sara Ramirez, winner Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for 'Monty Python's Spamalot', and Mike Nichols, winner Best Direction of a Musical for 'Monty Python's Spamalot' (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
NEW YORK - MARCH 17: (U.S. TABS AND HOLLYWOOD REPORTER OUT) Director Mike Nichols takes a bow with actor Tim Curry during the opening night curtain call for 'Monty Python's Spamalot' at the Shubert Theatre March 17, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
Natalie Portman and director Mike Nichols during 'Closer' Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals at Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California, United States. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, Mike Nichols and Jude Law (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 19: Actress Meryl Streep and director Mike Nichols, winners for Outstanding Miniseries for HBO's 'Angels in America', pose backstage during the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium September 19, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
Mike Nichols wins Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special for 'Angels in America' (Photo by Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic)
Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols during 26th Annual Kennedy Center Honors at John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, United States. (Photo by Jeff Snyder/FilmMagic)
Dana Reeve, Christopher Reeve, Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
High Angle View|X40206|Horizontal|Three Quarter Length|Photography|Portrait|Looking At Camera|Color Image|Side View|Cross-legged|One Woman Only|Document|Businesswoman|Indoors|Young Adult|Smiling|Office|Occupation|One Person|Working|20s|One Young Woman Only|Casual Clothing|Toothy Smile|Holding|Coffee|Brown Hair|Latin American and Hispanic Ethnicity|Cup|Coffee Break|Business|Relaxation|Corporate Hierarchy|Working At Home
UNITED STATES - MAY 03: Mike Nichols is flanked by Candice Bergen (left) and his wife, Diane Sawyer, at Avery Fisher Hall. They were on hand for the Film Society of Lincoln Center's gala tribute to Nichols. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Diane Sawyer, Mike Nichols, and Mike's daughter during 'Primary Colors' Los Angeles Premiere at Cineplex Odeon Universal Studios Cinema in Universal City, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols during NY Film Festival Premiere of 'The People Vs. Larry Flynt' at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Mike Nichols, Diane Sawyer (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols during Dinner Party Honoring Richard Avedon Hosted by Random House and The New Yorker - September 27, 1993 in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Diane Sawyer, Mike Nichols (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Rear view of movie dir. Mike Nichols walking to parking lot w. his TV journalist wife Diane Sawyer who is giving him a pat on the buttocks at the 1992 Hampton Classic horse show which was a benefit for Southhampton Hospital & the US Equestrian Team. (Photo by Kimberly Butler/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Barbara Walters, Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer during Museum of Television & Radio Honors Mike Nichols at Waldorf Astoria in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer during 'Regarding Henry' New York City Premiere at Loews Tower East Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Diane Sawyer, Mike Nichols, Max Nichols and Jenny Nichols (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: Mike Nichols (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols during 'Gorillas in the Mist' New York City Premiere at Beekman Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Carrie Fisher and Mike Nichols (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Promotional headshot portrait of German-born director Mike Nichols for the film, 'Carnal Knowledge,' 1971. (Photo by Avco Embassy Pictures/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 14: Mike Nichols and Jack Nicholson attend Stars For McGovern Campaign Rally on June 14, 1972 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
LAUGH LINE -- Pictured: (l-r) Elaine May, Mike Nichols -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAUGH LINE -- Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Dick Van Dyke, panelists Elaine May, Mike Nichols, Dorothy Loudon, guest panelist Orson Bean during rehearsal for the first show -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Mike Nichols and Miriam Nichols during 26th Annual Tony Awards - After Party at Americana Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
JULY 1965: (L-R) Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers of the folk group 'Peter, Paul & Mary' pose for a portrait with director Mike Nichols (right) circa 1965. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
A photo dated of 1965 shows British-born US actress Elizabeth Taylor and director Mike Nichols (R) during the filming of 'Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?'. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read /AFP/Getty Images)
German-born American comedian, actor, and director Mike Nichols (born Michael Igor Peschkowsky) lights a cigarette in the garden of his E. 75th St. apartment on an episode of the CBS celebrity interview program 'Person to Person,' New York, New York, June 7, 1960. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 03: Nightclub comedians Mike Nichols and Elaine May doing skit on recent TV scandals during Fabulous Fifties TV special. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
NICHOLS & MAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Comedy duo: Elaine May, Mike Nichols in 1958 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Mike Nichols escorts Agnes Varda, director of "Le Bonheur" to the premiere of her film at the Fine Arts Theater, May 23, 1966. (AP PHOTO)
French actress-dancer Leslie Caron presents the Oscar to director Mike Nichols backstage at the 1967 Academy Awards at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Ca., on April 10, 1968. Nichols won best director for his movie" The Graduate." (AP Photo)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

NEW YORK (AP) -- Mike Nichols, the director of matchless versatility who brought fierce wit, caustic social commentary and wicked absurdity to such film, TV and stage hits as "The Graduate," "Angels in America" and "Monty Python's Spamalot," has died. He was 83.

The death was confirmed by ABC News President James Goldston on Thursday. Nichols died Wednesday evening. Goldston said the family was holding a small private service this week.

Critically Acclaimed Director Mike Nichols Dies at 83

During a career spanning more than 50 years, Nichol, who was married to ABC's Diane Sawyer, managed to be both an insider and outsider, an occasional White House guest and friend to countless celebrities who was as likely to satirize the elite as he was to mingle with them. A former stand-up performer who began his career in a groundbreaking comedy duo with Elaine May and whose work brought him an Academy Award, a Grammy and multiple Tony and Emmy honors, Nichols had a remarkable gift for mixing edgy humor and dusky drama.

"No one was more passionate than Mike," Goldston wrote in an email announcing Nichols' death.

His 1966 film directing debut "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" unforgettably captured the vicious yet sparkling and sly dialogue of Edward Albee's play, as a couple (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) torment each other over deep-seated guilt and resentment.

"Angels in America," the 2003 TV miniseries adapted from the stage sensation, blended rich pathos and whimsy in its portrait of people coping with AIDS and looking to the heavens for compassion they found lacking in Ronald Reagan's 1980s America.

Similarly, Nichols' 2001 TV adaptation of the play "Wit" packed biting levity within the stark story of a college professor dying of ovarian cancer.

Nichols, who won directing Emmys for both "Angels in America" and "Wit," said he liked stories about the real lives of real people and that humor inevitably pervades even the bleakest of such tales.

"I have never understood people dividing things into dramas and comedies," Nichols said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press. "There are more laughs in `Hamlet' than many Broadway comedies."

He was a wealthy, educated man who often mocked those just like him, never more memorably than in "The Graduate," which shot Dustin Hoffman to fame in the 1967 story of an earnest young man rebelling against his elders' expectations. Nichols himself would say that he identified with Hoffman's awkward, perpetually flustered Benjamin Braddock.

Mixing farce and Oedipal drama, Nichols managed to capture a generation's discontent without ever mentioning Vietnam, civil rights or any other issues of the time. But young people laughed hard when a family friend advised Benjamin that the road to success was paved with "plastics" or at Benjamin's lament that he felt like life was "some kind of game, but the rules don't make any sense to me. They're being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up."

At the time, Nichols was "just trying to make a nice little movie," he recalled in 2005 at a retrospective screening of "The Graduate." "It wasn't until when I saw it all put together that I realized this was something remarkable."

Nichols won the best-director Oscar for "The Graduate," which co-starred Anne Bancroft as an aging temptress pursuing Hoffman, whose character responds with the celebrated line, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me."

Divorced three times, Nichols married TV journalist Diane Sawyer in 1988. He admitted in 2013 that many of his film and stage projects explored a familiar, naughty theme.

"I keep coming back to it, over and over - adultery and cheating," he says. "It's the most interesting problem in the theater. How else do you get Oedipus? That's the first cheating in the theater."

Not just actors, but great actors, clamored to work with Nichols, who studied acting with Lee Strasberg and had an empathy that helped bring out the best from the talent he put in front of the camera.

Nichols often collaborated with Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson. Other stars who worked with Nichols included Al Pacino ("Angels in America"), Gene Hackman and Robin Williams ("The Birdcage"), Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver ("Working Girl") and Julia Roberts ("Closer"). In 2007, Nichols brought out "Charlie Wilson's War," starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Just as he moved easily among stage, screen and television, Nichols fearlessly switched from genre to genre. Onstage, he tackled comedy ("The Odd Couple"), classics ("Uncle Vanya") and musicals ("The Apple Tree," "Spamalot," the latter winning him his sixth Tony for directing).

On Broadway, he won nine Tonys, for directing the plays "Barefoot in the Park" (1964), "Luv" and "The Odd Couple" (1965), "Plaza Suite" (1968), "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1972), "The Real Thing" (1984), and Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" (2012). He has also won in other categories, for directing the musical "Monty Python's Spamalot" (2005), and for producing "Annie" (1977) and "The Real Thing" (1984).

"I think a director can make a play happen before your eyes so that you are part of it and it is part of you," he said. "If you can get it right, there's no mystery. It's not about mystery. It's not even mysterious. It's about our lives."

Though known for films with a comic edge, Nichols branched into thrillers with "Day of the Dolphin," horror with "Wolf," and real-life drama with "Silkwood." Along with directing for television, he was an executive producer for the 1970s TV series "Family."

Nichols' golden touch failed him on occasion with such duds as the anti-war satire "Catch-22," with Alan Arkin in an adaptation of Joseph Heller's best-seller, and "What Planet Are You From?", an unusually tame comedy for Nichols that starred Garry Shandling and Annette Bening.

Born Michael Igor Peschkowsky on Nov. 6, 1931, in Berlin, Nichols fled Nazi Germany for America at age 7 with his family. He recalled to the AP in 1996 that at the time, he could say only two things in English: "I don't speak English" and "Please don't kiss me."

He said he fell in love with the power of the stage at age 15 when the mother of his then-girlfriend gave them theater tickets to the second night of the debut of "A Streetcar Named Desire" starring Marlon Brando in 1947.

"We were poleaxed, stunned. We didn't speak to each other. We just sat like two half-unconscious people. It was so shocking. It was so alive. It was so real," he said. "I'm amazed about our bladders because we never went to the bathroom and it was about 3 1/2 or 4 hours long."

Nichols attended the University of Chicago but left to study acting in New York. He returned to Chicago, where he began working with May in the Compass Players, a comedy troupe that later became the Second City.

May and Nichols developed their great improvisational rapport into a saucy, sophisticated stage show that took on sex, marriage, family and other subjects in a frank manner that titillated and startled audiences of the late 1950s and early `60s.

"People always thought we were making fun of other people when we were in fact making fun of ourselves," Nichols told the AP in 1997. "We did teenagers in the back seat of the car and people committing adultery. Of course, you're making fun of yourself. You're making jokes about yourself. Who can you better observe?"

Their Broadway show, "An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May," earned them a Grammy for best comedy recording in 1961.

The two split up soon after, though they reunited in the 1990s, with May writing screenplays for Nichols' "Primary Colors" and "The Birdcage," adapted from the French farce "La Cage aux Folles."

After the break with May, Nichols found his true calling as a director, his early stage work highlighted by "Barefoot in the Park," "The Odd Couple," "Plaza Suite" and "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," each of which earned him Tonys.

Other honors included Oscar nominations for directing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", "Silkwood" and "Working Girl," a best-picture nomination for producing "The Remains of the Day," and a lifetime-achievement award from the Directors Guild of America in 2004.

Never one to analyze his career and look for common themes, Nichols would shrug off questions that sought to link his far-flung body of work.

"What I sort of think about is what Orson Welles told me, which is: Leave it to the other guys, the people whose whole job it is to do that, to make patterns and say what the thread is through your work and where you stand," Nichols told the AP in 1996. "Let somebody else worry about what it means."

The family will hold a private service this week; a memorial will be held at a later date, Goldston said.

---

AP Drama Writer Mark Kennedy contributed to this report.


More from AOL
U2's Bono fitted with metal plates, screws after bike accident
TV Land pulls 'Cosby Show' from lineup
Knowles spills Solange wedding details -- and how Beyonce saved the day

Read Full Story

From Our Partners