"Death Wish" director Michael Winner dies aged 77

LONDON Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:27pm IST

Michael Winner holds an umbrella as the Queen Elizabeth II looks on at the unveiling of the National Police Memorial in the Mall in London, April 26, 2005. REUTERS/Stephen Hird/Files

Michael Winner holds an umbrella as the Queen Elizabeth II looks on at the unveiling of the National Police Memorial in the Mall in London, April 26, 2005.

Credit: Reuters/Stephen Hird/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Flamboyant British film director Michael Winner, best known for the "Death Wish" series of the 1970s and 80s, died at his London home on Monday. He was 77.

In a statement released to the media, his wife Geraldine said: "A light has gone out in my life."

Winner, who reinvented himself in recent years as an outspoken restaurant critic in the Sunday Times, had been ill for some time, and revealed last summer that specialists had given him 18 months to live due to heart and liver problems.

He said in a later interview that he had considered going to the Dignitas assisted-dying clinic in Switzerland.

Winner's movie career spanned some 40 years and more than 30 feature films, including the successful Death Wish series starring Charles Bronson as a vigilante out to avenge family murders.

He worked with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, including Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum and Faye Dunaway, but his success was overshadowed by a divisive image in Britain as a pompous bon viveur who did nothing to hide his wealth.

According to Winner's official online biography, actor Michael Caine once said of him: "You are a complete and utter fraud. You come on like a bombastic, ill-tempered monster. It's not the side I see of you. I see a man who has a tremendous artistic eye."

In its obituary, the Daily Telegrah wrote: "Flamboyant, often boorish, he was, in many ways, his own worst enemy."

EARLY INTEREST IN SHOWBUSINESS

Born in London in 1935, Winner took an early interest in showbusiness, writing an entertainment column aged just 14 which was published in 30 local newspapers.

According to his website, he studied law and economics at Cambridge University and worked as a film critic as a teenager before entering the world of movies full time in 1956 when he started marking documentaries and shorts.

In the 1960s Winner focused on comedies like "The Jokers" and "I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname", both of which starred Oliver Reed.

The following decade he moved on to crime capers like "The Mechanic" and "The Stone Killer" before the commercially successful Death Wish, which was released in 1974 and spawned several sequels.

The original movie proved controversial for its portrayal of urban violence, but Winner defended a film he always knew he would be best remembered for.

"Death Wish was an epoch-making film," he told the Big Issue charity publication last year. "The first film in the history of cinema where the hero kills other civilians.

"It had never been done before. Since then it has been the most copied film ever. Tarantino put it in his top 10 films ever made."

He later turned his hand to food criticism in a typically outspoken column for the Sunday Times called Winner's Dinners. His last column appeared on December 2 and was titled: "Geraldine says it's time to get down from the table. Goodbye."

Winner, whose appearance in adverts for insurance coined the catchphrase "Calm down dear, it's only a commercial", founded and funded the Police Memorial Trust following the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.

More than 50 officers have been honoured by the trust at sites across the country.

He was reportedly offered an OBE in the Queen's honours' list in 2006 for the campaign, but turned it down, saying: "An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King's Cross station."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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