Date of Birth: 2 August 1939, Cleveland, Ohio, US
Birth Name: Wesley Earl Craven
Nicknames: Wes Craven
Wes Craven, the film director, who made his living out of scaring the wits out of people in such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), earning the nickname “Sultan of Slash”; later, as audiences became cynical about the franchise-driven genre, he served up horror with an ironic tongue in cheek.
Craven’s work left the critics divided. Some reviewers denounced him as a purveyor of gore with a dazzling technique and nothing to say; others compared him to Ingmar Bergman.
Craven himself recalled, during his early career, that guests would leave dinner parties upon realising who he was. But he always had fans among younger directors who appreciated the intelligence and psychological insight he brought to low-budget film making.
He created some of the most memorable bogeymen in film, culminating, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, in the blade-taloned Freddy Krueger, a murdered child molester in a moth-eaten sweater and filthy fedora who is brought back to life via the dreams of the teenage descendants of his killers.
Made at a time when Aids was coming to public attention and the prospect of environmental Armageddon had become a topic in classrooms, the film seemed to tap into deep-seated fears.
Craven, who had a master’s degree in philosophy, became a prominent defender of the horror genre which, he argued, gives people the mental equipment to deal with a frightening world. “You’re talking about the beasts in the forest that come after you during the daytime or during the night but in a way that’s under control. So in a sense, you can own the beast,” he explained.
His films were often inspired by true stories. Nightmare was inspired by reports in the Los Angeles Times about a group of refugees who had fled the Khmer Rouge, healthy young men in their twenties, who, after fleeing to the United States, were suffering disturbing nightmares, after which they refused to sleep. “They would try to stay awake, and they would describe the nightmares to their families,” Craven recalled. “Finally there would be a scream and the guy would be dead. Death by nightmare.”
The resulting film established Craven as a leading director . His producers established a franchise and went on to make several more Freddy Krueger films of varying quality, without Craven’s input, until 1995 when he released Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
By this time, as he recalled, “horror had reached one of its sort of classical, cyclical stages of ennui on the part of the audience”. So Craven decided to poke fun at the genre. New Nightmare had the actors, studio head and Craven himself being stalked by Freddy Krueger as they worked on a new instalment of the series.
Craven subverted the horror genre again with Scream (1996), the tale of a high-school student who becomes the target of a mysterious killer known as Ghostface. Full of ironic self-reference (“This is like something out of a Wes Carpenter film,” one character observes), the film was a box office hit, taking $173 million worldwide, spawning a lucrative franchise and inspiring the “Scary Movie” parodies.
Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 2 1939 to strict Baptist parents. Even though he was forbidden from going to the cinema, he claimed that his religious upbringing had shaped his talent as a film maker, encouraging him to “ask big questions about life and death”.
The character of Freddy Krueger, however, drew on an event in his own childhood when, one night, he heard a shuffling sound outside his bedroom window: “I crept over there and looked down. It was a man wearing a fedora.
“He stopped and looked up directly into my face. I backed into the shadows, listening and waiting for him to go away. But I didn’t hear anything. I went back to the window. He looked up at me again and then turned away. He walked into the door of our apartment building. I’ve never, ever been that scared in my life. I was terrified.”
Craven studied English and Psychology at Wheaton College, Illinois . He later earned a master’s in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University, but it was while he was working as a humanities professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York state, that he first went to the cinema and fell in love. In 1971 he left his teaching job to work as a film editor at a post-production house in Manhattan.
After writing and directing pornographic films under pseudonyms, Craven made his debut under his own name in 1972 with the ultra-low-budget ($90,000) shocker The Last House on the Left, about a gang of psychotic killers who rape, torture and murder two teenage girls, only to meet a more horrific fate at the hands of the girls’ parents.
Marketed under the slogan, “To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only a movie . . . only a movie . . .” the film was a grisly remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning Virgin Spring (1959) featuring sickeningly real scenes of sadism and violence. Released mostly on drive-in screens in America, the film was banned by the censors in Britain, though it has come to be seen as a classic .
His follow-up, The Hills Have Eyes, about cannibalistic mutants stalking a suburban family who have become stranded in the desert, established his reputation as a cult director, but it was A Nightmare on Elm Street that propelled him into the mainstream.
Craven’s other films included Deadly Friend (1986); The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988); Shocker (1990); The People Under the Stairs (1991); Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) and Red Eye (2005). In 1999 he made a rare foray outside the horror genre with Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar. His last film, in 2011, was the fourth in the Scream franchise. People were sometimes surprised to learn that Craven was not, in his words, “a Mansonite crazoid”, but a charming, humorous man whose hobby was bird-watching. When asked by an interviewer to name the thing that most terrified him, he replied “my ex-wife’s divorce lawyer”.
Date of Birth: 26 March 1931, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Birth Name: Leonard Simon Nimoy
Nicknames: Leonard Nimoy
Few actors outside soap opera become defined by a single role to the exclusion of all else in their career. But that was the case for Leonard Nimoy, who has died aged 83. He did not simply play Mr Spock, first officer of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek he was synonymous with him, even after taking on other parts and branching out into directing and photography.
Star Trek began life on television, running for three series between 1966 and 1969, and later spawned numerous spin-offs, including a run of films of varying quality, two of which (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, from 1984, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, from 1986) Nimoy directed. “I’m very proud of having been connected with the show,” he wrote in 1975. “I felt that it dealt with morality and philosophical questions in a way that many of us would wish were part of the reality of our lives.”
In front of the camera, as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock, he captured with delicious wit the tensions in the character. Spock’s logical, detached perspective could be infuriating to his more demonstrative colleagues; it also caused him to be amused or bewildered by the workings of humans. This could play out humorously or poignantly. He was uniquely placed, for example, to analyse coolly our emotional shortcomings: “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want,” he mused in the first series. His dry rapport with the more passionate, full-blooded Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) was a pleasure that endured long after the Star Trek brand itself showed signs of having been around the galaxy a few too many times.
Once seen, Spock was never forgotten. The hair, boot-polish black, was snipped short with a severe, straight fringe; it looked more like headgear than a haircut, more painted on than grown. An inch of forehead separated that fringe from a pair of sabre-like eyebrows that arched extravagantly upwards. These came in handy for conveying what the reserved Spock could not always express verbally. “The first thing I learned was that a raised eyebrow can be very effective,” said Nimoy.
Spock’s defining physical feature, though, was his pointed ears. The actor’s first reaction upon seeing them was: “If this doesn’t work, it could be a bad joke.” Sharply tapered but in no way pixieish, the ears somehow never undermined his gravitas. Or rather, Nimoy’s sober disposition precluded laughter. Besides, in a show suffused with messages of inclusivity and tolerance, it would never do for audiences to laugh at someone just because he came from Vulcan.
Nimoy contributed key details to the character, including the traditional Vulcan greeting: a hand held up and the four fingers parted to create a V. This was inspired by prayer gestures witnessed by the young Nimoy at synagogue.
He would later title his 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock. “I was trying to illuminate the actor’s process in creating a character. I talked about the fact that I grew up in Boston and Spock did not. My parents were Russian immigrants; Spock’s were not. I’m an actor who portrays this character.” He conceded, though, that the title had been a mistake and had given the erroneous impression that he was trying to shrug off his best-known role. He made amends by calling the 1995 follow-up I Am Spock.
Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Max, a barber, and Dora, and showed an interest in acting from a young age (though his father tried to persuade him to take up the accordion instead). He studied drama at Boston College and began to get small parts in theatre, film and television. At 20 he was cast in the lead role of a young boxer in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni, and discovered a kind of sanctuary in the prosthetics he was required to wear. “I found a home behind that makeup,” he wrote in I Am Not Spock. “I was much more confident and comfortable than I would have been, had I been told I was to play ‘a handsome young man’.”
Nimoy did military service from 1953 to 1955, during which time one of his duties was producing army talent shows. He continued acting after leaving the army and in the early 1960s began teaching acting classes, while also starring in guest roles on television series including Bonanza, Rawhide and The Twilight Zone. He established his own acting studio where he taught for three years.
Nimoy auditioned for an earlier Gene Roddenberry project, and when Roddenberry created Star Trek he thought of him for the role of Spock. “I thought it would be a challenge,” Nimoy said. “As an actor, my training had been in how to use my emotions, and here was a character who had them all locked up.”
After 79 episodes across three series, the NBC network cancelled the show because of its low ratings. Nimoy went straight into another regular gig a role on the light-hearted spy series Mission: Impossible and then began studying photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He would later publish photographic studies including Shekhina (2002), a celebration of spirituality and sexuality in Judaism, and The Full Body Project (2007), focused on unorthodox female body sizes.
His acting work in the 1970s included a chilling performance in Philip Kaufman’s intelligent 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 1979, he returned to play Spock in the rather leaden Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He would do so in a further seven Star Trek films. Among them were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He was the only original cast member to appear in JJ Abrams’s instalments of the revived or “rebooted” franchise, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). His appearance in the first of those Abrams films, as the older Spock coming face to face with his younger self (Zachary Quinto), was deeply affecting and played with characteristic restraint. He also revived Spock in two 1991 episodes (“Unification I” and “Unification II”) of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in animated and computer-game incarnations of Star Trek.
If Nimoy never escaped association with Spock, it was not for want of trying. He wrote seven poetry collections, released several albums and established himself as a successful and varied director. Alongside his two Star Trek movies, he directed himself in a TV movie version of the one-man play Vincent (1981), about the life of Van Gogh. He scored an international box-office hit with 3 Men and a Baby (1987). He also made the drama The Good Mother (1988), starring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson, as well as two disappointing comedies, Funny About Love (1990) and Holy Matrimony (1994).
Date of Birth: 21 July 1951, Chicago, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Robin McLaurin Williams
Nicknames: Robin Williams
Robin Williams, who has died aged 63, was one of America’s most versatile and successful comedy actors; brilliant at improvisation and mimicry, he made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, while on screen he was able to portray anyone from a post-menopausal grande dame (Mrs Doubtfire) to a psychopathic killer (One Hour Photo).
Stardom came in the early 1970s after he had taken a cameo role as Mork, an extraterrestrial in the television sitcom Happy Days. Williams’s eccentric, largely improvised performance was a huge hit and spawned a spin-off sitcom, Mork & Mindy, in which Mork lands on Earth and ends up sharing an apartment with the quintessential girl next door. The series which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1982, and arrived in Britain in 1979 showcased the frenzied energy and amazing facility with voices and faces which he would later use in his films. Mork & Mindy eventually reached an audience of 60 million.
After making his screen debut in Robert Altman’s ill-fated 1980 version of Popeye, Williams’s breakthrough came in 1987, when he played Adrian Cronauer, a motormouth DJ who gets up the noses of the top brass in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).
He delivered an Academy Award-winning performance as a psychologist battling his own emotional demons in Good Will Hunting (1997), and won several Oscar nominations including one for his performance in 1993 as Mrs Doubtfire, the ex-husband who infiltrates himself back into the bosom of the family by disguising himself as a middle-aged Scottish nanny.
Hollywood directors sometimes found it difficult to harness Williams’s talents to a script and a storyline strong enough to take him. There were memorable flops, among them The Survivors (1983), Club Paradise (1986), Toys (1992), Patch Adams (1998), Jakob The Liar (1999) and Bicentennial Man (1999). But he won Oscar nominations for his roles as the mildly anarchic teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989) and as the deranged tramp who leads Jeff Bridges towards personal redemption in The Fisher King (1991).
His critics often complained that Williams’s characters were all the same: cuddly, waifish innocents with a mawkish need to ingratiate themselves with their audience. And there was, admittedly, something curiously sexless about his performances. One American columnist described his appearance as the owner of a gay club in The Birdcage (1996) as akin to “a hirsute construction worker halfway through a sex change operation who can’t afford to finish the job”. Of his performance as a psychologist in Awakenings (1990), one critic observed: “This is another of Robin Williams’s benevolent eunuch roles.” He certainly never got anywhere near a screen clinch.
Yet Williams proved he could play it straight; and he could play it nasty, too. In later life he revealed a darker, more interesting side to his acting. In Insomnia (2002) he put in a masterly performance as a sociopathic killer on the run from Al Pacino’s LAPD cop in the frozen wastes of Alaska. In One Hour Photo (2002) he was chilling as a photo lab technician who becomes obsessed with a family whose films he develops. And in The Night Listener (2006) he played a radio show host who realises that he has developed a friendship with a child who may not exist.
Williams first made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, and the versatility which was so evident in his later career would have come as no surprise to those familiar with the virtuoso free-fall improvisation of his stage routines. One critic wondered whether the star of such sickly-sweet offerings as Jack (1996) or What Dreams May Come (1998) could be “the same Robin Williams who used to spend two hours on stage pretending to be a penis”.
An only child, Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21 1951 in Chicago. His mother was a former model, his father an executive with Ford. The family moved several times during his childhood, at one point living in a house with 40 rooms.
Williams was often portrayed as a lonely child who tried to use humour to build friendships and avoid being picked on. Perhaps, he once joked, it was “because my mother was a Christian Dior Scientist... I was not only picked on physically but intellectually people used to kick copies of George Sand in my face.” But he denied being the class clown, and claimed that he got into acting in his final year at Redwood High School simply “to get laid”.
After leaving school, and a brief spell studying political science, Williams won a place at the Juilliard Academy in New York to study drama. There he demonstrated such extraordinary gifts for improvisation and mimicry that his tutors advised him to concentrate on comedy. He became good friends with his fellow student Christopher Reeve, and the two remained close until Reeve’s death in 2004, nine years after the riding accident that had left him paralysed from the neck down. Their relationship demonstrated the loyal, decent side of Williams’s character. When Reeve’s medical insurance ran out, Williams picked up the tab for many of the bills; then, after Reeve’s widow, Dana, died in 2006, he provided practical and financial support for their 14-year-old son.
After two years at the Juilliard, Williams moved to San Francisco, where he worked in restaurants by day and on the comedy circuit by night until his lucky break on Happy Days. The live stand-up comedy circuit remained a consistent thread throughout his career, and he sometimes turned up unannounced at San Francisco clubs just to get up on stage and start “riffing” — a great way to “peel off any pretence”, as he put it.
In his films and television performances, Williams often ad-libbed his own dialogue. The story goes that his television scriptwriters on Mork & Mindy got so fed up that they took to sending blank pages down to the set, inscribed “Robin Williams does his thing”.
For some reason his stand-up routine did not go down so well on the other side of the Atlantic. “I went to a club in Windsor and I just died,” he recalled. “It was the worst night of my life. A friend was watching and laughing his ass off because all you could hear was the clink of glasses.”
In 1978 Williams married his first wife, Valerie Velardi, a former dancer; but as a result of life in the fast lane he had become addicted to cocaine (“God’s way of telling you you’ve made too much money”, as he remarked). In the early 1980s his marriage fell apart and he started to make bad career moves, choosing films that bombed. But the death from a drugs overdose in 1982 of his friend the actor John Belushi, just hours after Williams had been with him, led Williams to rethink his own lifestyle. He went into rehab and sobered up.
The critical success of Good Morning, Vietnam was followed by a voice role as the Genie in Disney’s cartoon Aladdin (1992), in which left in the studio with a microphone Williams spun off into imitations of everyone from Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson to Carol Channing. Disney ended up with 30 hours of his improvisations, to which the animation was adapted later to synch with his voice-over. What started as a small cameo role eventually stole the show and helped make Aladdin the biggest earner in Disney’s history. By the time of Mrs Doubtfire in 1993 Williams was one of the biggest box office draws in the world.
In August 2008 Williams announced a 26-city stand-up comedy tour entitled Weapons of Self-Destruction. Though he explained that the tour was his last chance to have fun at the expense of George W Bush, the title could just as well have applied to himself. In 2006 he had gone into rehab for alcoholism, and in 2008 his second wife, Marsha Garces, whom he had married in 1986 and who had become his producer, filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
Williams’s many other film credits include Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), in which he played the adult Peter Pan, and Flubber (1997), in which he was an absent-minded professor who invents a miraculous flying green gloop. He starred in Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson (1984); appeared in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997); and played Theodore Roosevelt in the three Night at the Museum movies, the last of which is currently in post-production. He also played President Eisenhower in The Butler (2013).
An avid video games player, and a fan of professional road cycling and Rugby Union, Williams owned a vineyard in the Napa Valley, California, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, including Comic Relief. In addition to his Oscar award and nominations, he won six Golden Globes, two Screen Actors’ Guild Awards and three Grammy awards.
He belonged to the Episcopal Church (“Catholic Lite same rituals, half the guilt”), and was philosophical about death. “In your fifties, loss is a thing you live with a lot,” he told an interviewer . “Pretty soon friends will be checking out from natural causes. It’s the grim rapper, he’s comin’.”
Robin Williams, who had recently been suffering from depression, died at his San Francisco Bay home in an apparent suicide.
Date of Birth: 30 October 1935, Hampstead, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Michael Robert Winner
Nicknames: Michael Winner
Michael Winner, supplied interviewers with a list of more than 30 films he had directed, not always including the early travelogue This Is Belgium (1956), mostly shot in East Grinstead. But his enduring work was himself a bravura creation of movies, television, journalism, the law courts and a catchphrase, ''Calm down, dear", from an exasperating series of television commercials.
He was born in London, the only child of George and Helen Winner, who were of Russian and Polish extraction respectively. His builder father made enough money propping up blitzed houses to invest in London property. The profits funded his wife's gambling, which, her son complained, so distracted "Mumsie" that he was never paid due attention. She left him in the bedroom with the mink coats of guests who came to his barmitzvah only to play poker with her.
A boarder at St Christopher school, a Quaker establishment in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, Winner was an attention seeker from start to expulsion. According to his school reports he was "spoilt" with a "craving for power which he is trying to achieve by the use of his money". He also earned a "reputation of being movie mad" after he pinned handwritten reviews on the noticeboard.
When the publisher Paul Hamlyn addressed the school, Winner, then 14, asked for copies of all his film books and phoned him, reversing the charges, until they were sent. He then approached British studios, claiming to write for Hamlyn, and when that scam was found out, turned his acquaintance with a child actor into an article for the Kensington Post in 1950. It became a regular, syndicated showbiz column: he was not paid, but the seats were free and he had the undivided attention of Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye. That became a permanent part of his persona – the enfant terrible among the stars.
For his father, he studied law and economics at Downing College, Cambridge, and also edited the Varsity newspaper. He persuaded the owner of the Rex cinema in Cambridge to apply to the local council to approve a showing of The Wild One, banned by the censor because of its violence. The stunt attracted nationwide interest.
After university, television companies turned Winner down for a directors' course, so he wrote for both TV and film, and was a gossip columnist of sorts. He hired a Rolls-Royce and was, said a fellow writer, "a master at gathering banal quotes from silly girls down to the last burp". He invented a debutante, Venetia Crust, a fiction for which he was eventually exposed (later he used the name of her "father", Arnold, for movie credits).
Winner's father loaned him £1,500 for his first film, money soon recouped as Some Like It Cool (1962) filled a gap in the market for a comedy in a nudist camp. It was among several films he confected in the early 1960s. None demonstrated his maxim "create your own material to get a better class of employment", but they did end a period in which he sacked secretaries rather than have them know that he had no deals going.
Winner shared a new blokey humour emerging in post-Brylcreem Britain: after directing Billy Fury in Play It Cool (1962) and accurately reproducing bedsitter-land in West 11 (1963), he made The System (1964); You Must Be Joking! (1965) for which he blew up a car in Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour and told police he had no idea who was in charge; The Jokers (1966); and I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname (1967), with Oliver Reed and Orson Welles.
Winner extended his boy-genius phase by phoning reference books on his 30th birthday to tell them he was 29, knowing entries would not be changed for three years. He went on the road to make Hannibal Brooks (1969), a comedy lumbering through 200 locations, working again with Reed, and The Games (1969), about an Olympic marathon.
"I was looking for something that would keep us employed," he said of his move to Hollywood. "You don't have that much choice." Rejecting The French Connection as a project, he began with the westerns Lawman (1971), shot in Spain with rubber cacti, and Chato's Land (1972).
His real metier turned out to be primitive violence. Winner despised analysis, but it is significant that he directed testosterone fuelled revenge fantasies during the years when his by then widowed mother (a "nice, little, white-haired lady … She was a killer") sold paintings and antiques left to Winner to fund her casino losses, and set 11 firms of solicitors on him.
Winner mentioned to the actor Charles Bronson the idea of a man "justified" by the rape and murder of his womenfolk to shoot muggers, which led to Winner directing Death Wish (1974), and two sequels. He also directed coarse versions of The Big Sleep (with Robert Mitchum, 1978) and The Wicked Lady (1983 – he saw the original 20 times for Margaret Lockwood's bosom). All of these, as Bronson remarked, were abusively hard on women. In 1993 Winner converted Helen Zahavi's novel Dirty Weekend into a fantasy of a female exterminating angel, but it hardly evened the score (nor squared with his claim that his favourite film was Bambi).
Critics disliked a pleasureless tension gripping his films, whether it be The Nightcomers (1971), a prequel to The Turn of the Screw; Won Ton Ton The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976); or Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval (1989). Winner was always quick to challenge the press he taped his interviews either directly or through legal action (he gave away the damages). Papers would get a warning from the company, Scimitar Films, he ran with John Fraser: back at school, Winner had paid Fraser two shillings a week to clean his room and make his beds, and sixpence for washing up.
In 1984 he set up the Police Memorial Trust in response to the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Several years later he proposed a naff memorial to officers killed in the course of duty, featuring snarling alsatians (the Queen suggested their mouths be shut).
He began to describe films as a hobby, since he had sufficient millions for Learjet rides, a garage of cars that he drove Mr Toadishly and the slow repurchase of the rest of the Holland Park house in one flat of which his family had lived. The restored mansion, Woodland House, the former home of the Victorian artist Sir Luke Fildes, has more than 40 rooms and housed his valuable collection of artwork for children's books, including EH Shepard's drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh. He also collected the artwork of Donald McGill, master of the ribald, big‑bosomed seaside postcard.
A succession of young women shared evenings among his antiques, but did not live on the premises, where more regular companions included five full-time cleaners and herds of soft toys. On more solitary evenings he cut and glued table mats, and said obituarists would describe him as a "table-mat maker", adding "film‑maker" if there were space.
Eventually, he re-encountered Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, whom he had met in 1957 when she was a teenage ballet dancer; they were engaged in 2007, and married in 2011. He had intended to leave his house to the nation, but put it up for sale for £60m just before his marriage. He also auctioned much of his art collection, but swore this was not to repay £9m he had borrowed for little luxuries, including the hire of helicopters. He did not part with his autograph album of star signatures, or the teddy bears.
"I ate cornflakes on my own," he replied to questions about his swinging life when he was young and slender, although it was never all that he ate, and certainly not after the Sunday Times encouraged him into restaurant reviewing for his Winner's Dinners columns (published in book form in 1999). These were less about digestion than self-definition: several famous eateries banned him for his bullying.
His "calm down" catchphrase in the telly ads he directed and appeared in (once in drag) for the Esure insurance company displaced his own excitability and fluster on to (female) others. Esure sold a million policies during his era, before replacing him with a stop-motion-animated mouse. By then the ''calm down'' line had developed its own career David Cameron was heavily criticised when, during prime minister's questions in 2011, he directed it against the Labour MP Angela Eagle. Winner himself had been a fervent supporter of Margaret Thatcher, before a Blairite conversion.
He retired from his restaurant column in December 2012. His last years had been a tribulation involving a near-fatal bacterial infection from oysters, MRSA and liver disease.
Date of Birth: 21 July 1923, North Shields, North Tyneside, England, UK
Birth Name: Tony Scott
Nicknames: Anthony Scott
A former advertising director who followed his brother Ridley (now Sir Ridley) to Hollywood, his glossy, commercial sensibility powered films such as Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days of Thunder – testosterone-filled movies described by one critic as “visual amphetamines”.
A director with little interest in ideas or morality, he created a visual sheen that lingered in the memory long after narrative and characters were forgotten. Although he was accused of vulgarity and excessive love of hardware, Scott instinctively understood the power of images and was obsessive in his quest for visual impact.
But for all the reviewing community’s artistic unease, Scott was that rarest of beasts: a British filmmaker with a blockbuster reputation. That he lived in Hollywood, collected Ferraris and Harleys and hustled through relationships, only further alienated the sensibilities of his European peers.
He had extraordinary energy, producing and directing movies, making advertisements and, with his brother “Rid”, buying and managing Shepperton studios. Often involved with 20 projects simultaneously, he relaxed by climbing mountains and running. If his films were often accused of having a shiny core where the insight or empathy might have been, no one disputed his contention that his interest lay with “people who live their life on the edge”.
Anthony David Scott was born in North Shields on July 21 1944, seven years after his brother Ridley, and educated at Stockton-on-Tees. He enjoyed painting and rugby, while the proximity of the moors encouraged a love of the wild he retained all his life. Each summer in his youth he hitchhiked to the Alps to climb.
While at grammar school, he appeared as the title character in his brother’s first short film, Boy On A Bicycle. He then studied painting at Sunderland Art School, Leeds College of Art and Design and finally, on a scholarship, the Royal College .
Realising that he was unlikely to sustain a career as a painter, he joined his brother’s fledgling television production company. Ridley recalled: “I knew he had a fondness for cars, so I told him, 'Come work with me and within a year you’ll have a Ferrari.’ And he did.”
Ridley also taught Tony the techniques of making lush, high-quality shorts and, when he left for Hollywood, passed on several gold-tinted franchises, including the Hovis advert, featuring another boy on a bicycle. While Ridley enjoyed early success with Alien and Blade Runner, Tony made thousands of commercials, evolving a singular visual style and winning awards for his work for Chanel, Marlboro and Levis.
After Ridley’s success, and that of fellow “out-of-advertising” British filmmakers such as Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne and David Puttnam, it was inevitable that Tony Scott would try his luck in Hollywood.
But his first feature, the dark, moody The Hunger (1983), starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve – was almost his last. A self-consciously arty, Gothic tale of a vampire forced to find a cure for her rapidly ageing lover, the film was a self-confessed “total knock-off of Nic Roeg’s Performance”, and most memorable for a lesbian love scene between Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.
Despite sumptuous cinematography (albeit compromised by Scott’s fatal attraction to the shorthand of advertising coloured filters, exquisitely photographed smoke, fluttering curtains, shafts of light streaming through blinds), the film was mauled by the critics and Hollywood insiders. The director recalled that, after the first screening, “on my parking space my name was painted out. I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. Nobody had the balls to tell me I’d been fired.”
He returned to making commercials until the producer Jerry Bruckheimer hired him to direct Top Gun (1986). Initially he couldn’t “see” the movie. “I wanted to make Apocalypse Now on an aircraft carrier. Then I got it. It’s rock-and-roll, silver jets in a bright blue sky, good-looking guys.” Taking his “look” from a Bruce Weber photograph, Scott was a self-confessed magpie he created the ultimate feel good movie in which Tom Cruise’s air force recruit tried to pass out top of the flying academy and retain the love of Kelly McGillis.
The film, described by one critic as “a sleek, pulsating paean to testosterone”, took £220.59 million at the box office, propelled Cruise to superstar status and Scott on to the Hollywood A-list.
He was rewarded with Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), a hugely successful action sequel starring Eddie Murphy’s wisecracking, rule-busting policeman which confirmed Scott as a director capable of delivering high energy drama loosely attached to a plot.
Both hits were made with Jerry Bruckheimer, who kept Scott’s less commercial instincts at bay, and when Scott made his next film without Bruckheimer, it showed. Revenge (1990) was a darker thriller, a story of adultery in Mexico starring Kevin Costner and Madeleine Stowe. It leaned towards a darker palette reminiscent of the paintings of Francis Bacon that had inspired Scott as a student and was panned.
Back in the cockpit with his usual producer and a familiar star, Days of Thunder (1991) was Top Gun in a different machine. With fighter pilots replaced by racing drivers, Cruise reprised his role as the talented but reckless young buck who has to control his emotions as much as his motor. But the movie failed to repeat his earlier success, the public evidently taking the view that there was no point in watching the same film twice.
Scott was conscious that he was being typecast as a director of blockbusters, so when he was introduced to a video store employee, unknown scriptwriter and fledgling filmmaker called Quentin Tarantino, he tried to buy the rights to True Romance and Reservoir Dogs . Tarantino refused to sell Reservoir Dogs, using the money Scott paid for True Romance to fund filming it.
But his script for True Romance, a Bonnie and Clyde-themed tale of a hooker and her lover on the run from almost everyone, was sharp edged and allowed Scott the opportunity to focus on individuals as much as action. Although it attracted a cast including Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Patricia Arquette, Christian Slater and, in a cameo, Samuel L Jackson, initial reactions were lukewarm though it attained cult status after the by now ludicrously hip Tarantino blessed it.
Having established his ability to handle the egos of multiple stars in a single picture, the permanently pink baseball-capped, cigar-toting Scott had little trouble attracting Hollywood’s finest to his projects. Crimson Tide (1995) starred Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington as two submariners without radio contact to base who take opposing views over whether they should launch a nuclear attack on a Russian island.
The Fan (1996), which portrayed a baseball fan stalking his hero, starred Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, Wesley Snipes and Benicio Del Toro, and was followed by Enemy of the State (1998), a hi-tech thriller in which Will Smith’s hapless lawyer was forced to take on the government machine. An opportunity for the director to pay homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s paranoid classic The Conversation, what Enemy of the State lacked in originality it made up in pace and in Gene Hackman’s beautifully understated portrayal of a tired, cynical investigator.
Spy Game (2001), which had to be cut after the September 11 terrorist attacks, again examined the not always beneficent power of the state. The film portrayed retiring spymaster Robert Redford’s attempts to spring his young partner (Brad Pitt) from a Chinese jail, where he faced execution for spying, despite the refusal of his bosses to help.
Scott’s technical skills and his obsession with cinematography at the expense of narrative were again visible in Man On Fire (2004). This starred Denzel Washington as a tortured ex-CIA agent hired to protect a child in Mexico City who was, to no one’s surprise, kidnapped. Displaying all Scott’s capacity for hi-tech mayhem with hand-held camera shots and jump-cut editing, the hackneyed story bounded along furiously towards its inevitable conclusion.
Domino (2005), which starred Keira Knightley as the heiress-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey, was universally panned, as much for its woeful miscasting as for the over-exuberant editing which elbowed what little plausible narrative there was aside.
Denzel Washington also starred in two of Scott’s more recent films, The Taking Of Pelham 123 (2009) and Unstoppable (2010). Latterly Scott had been producing for television as well as films.
For a director of such energy and success, Scott was a surprisingly soft-spoken man who retained his Geordie accent all his life. He indulged his love of fast cars, motorbikes and women, and his highly publicised affair with Sylvester Stallone’s ex-wife and the female lead of Beverly Hills Cop II, Brigitte Nielson, put paid to his own second marriage.
Reportedly a man who needed only three hours’ sleep a night, he awoke to three cups of black coffee and a large Monte Cristo, the first of 12 each day. He was a passionate mountaineer who claimed to be never happier than when “5,000ft up on a cliff face”. An art collector of catholic tastes, he acquired works by artists ranging from Robert Rauschenberg to Guido Reni.
The Scott brothers did not suffer from sibling rivalry; rather, they worked together over Shepperton, understood their respective strengths and rejoiced at each other’s success. “Ridley makes films for posterity,” Tony once observed. “My films are more rock ’n’ roll.”
Tony Scott, who apparently committed suicide by jumping from a bridge in Los Angeles, married three times and divorced twice. His second marriage was to the BBC producer Glynis Staunton. He is survived by his third wife, Donna, and their two children.