LOS ANGELES (AP) – Robert Altman, a five-time Academy Award nominee for best director whose vast, eclectic filmography ranged from the dark war comedy “M-A-S-H” to the Hollywood farce “The Player” to the British murder mystery “Gosford Park,” has died of complications from cancer. He was 81.

Angela Cesere
Robert Altman, 81, was an important figure in American cinema. (AP PHOTO)

He died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, surrounded by his wife and children.

While he was famous for his outspokenness, which caused him to fall in and out of favor in Hollywood over his nearly six decades in the industry, he was perhaps even better known for his influential method of assembling large casts and weaving in and out of their story lines, using long tracking shots and intentionally having dialogue overlap.

His most recent example of this technique, this year’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” starred such varied performers as Lily Tomlin and Lindsay Lohan.

“Mr. Altman loved making movies. He loved the chaos of shooting and the sociability of the crew and actors – he adored actors – and he loved the editing room and he especially loved sitting in a screening room and watching the thing over and over with other people,” Keillor, who also wrote and co-starred in the film, told The AP. “He didn’t care for the money end of things, he didn’t mind doing publicity, but when he was working he was in heaven.”

Altman received best-director Oscar nominations for “M-A-S-H,” “Nashville,” “The Player,” “Short Cuts” and “Gosford Park.” No director ever got more nominations without winning a competitive Oscar, though four other men _ Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Clarence Brown and King Vidor tied with Altman at five.

Despite his longevity and the many big-name stars who’ve appeared in his films, Altman famously bucked the studio system and was often critical of its executives. One of his best-received films, the insiderish “The Player,” follows the travails of a studio executive being blackmailed by a writer.

But amid all those critical hits were several commercial duds including “The Gingerbread Man” in 1998, “Cookie’s Fortune” in 1999 and “Dr. T & the Women” in 2000. His reputation for arrogance and hard drinking _ a habit he eventually gave up _ hindered his efforts to raise money for his idiosyncratic films.

Julian Fellowes, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 2001’s “Gosford Park,” called the director “a force of nature.”

“A lifelong rebel, he managed to make the movie industry do his bidding, and there are very, very few people who can claim that. He altered both my career and my perceptions, vastly for the better, and no matter how long I live, I will die grateful to him.”

Born Feb. 20, 1925, Altman hung out in his teen years at the jazz clubs of Kansas City, Mo., where his father was an insurance salesman.

Married three times, Altman is survived by his wife, Kathryn Reed Altman, and six children. He also had 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Although Altman was known for his independent streak, he was also a generous-spirited man, said Sally Kirkland, who appeared as herself in “The Player.”

“He was somebody who embraced people,” she said, “very warm, very approachable, so down-to-earth.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *