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Mike Nichols, Director of Birdcage and Angels, Dead at 83

Mike Nichols, Director of Birdcage and Angels, Dead at 83


The respected director's work included some gay-themed and gay-beloved projects.

Mike Nichols, the esteemed director whose works included some gay-themed or gay-beloved films and plays, such as The Birdcage and Angels in America, died Wednesday in Manhattan at age 83. The cause was cardiac arrest, The New York Times reports.

Nichols, who as a child fled Nazi Germany for New York with his family, first gained fame in show business as the comedy partner of Elaine May. They met while attending the University of Chicago in the 1950s and formed a popular act using their improv skills. After their act broke up, he became a successful director on Broadway in the 1960s, winning Tony Awards for the Neil Simon comedies Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple.

His first movie-directing job was the 1966 film adaptation of gay playwright Edward Albee's scathing portrait of a (heterosexual) marriage, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He was Oscar-nominated for this effort, for which Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis won Oscars for lead and supporting performances, respectively. He took home the Oscar for his next film, The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman as a privileged but directionless young man having an affair with an older, married woman (Anne Bancroft) while simultaneously dating her daughter (Katharine Ross). Nichols is one of the few people to have won Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony awards.

He directed Cher to an Oscar-nominated performance as a lesbian character in 1983's Silkwood. The character was a friend of the film's heroine, real-life corporate whistle-blower Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), and the role brought Cher new credibility as an actress. Primary Colors, a 1998 adaptation of the popular political novel, featured gay and lesbian characters as well.

Nichols's gayest big-screen effort, though, was 1996's The Birdcage, a reworking of the French film La Cage aux Folles, with a script by May. Robin Williams starred as a gay club owner and Nathan Lane as his spouse and star performer, and the plot has Lane's character pretending to be a woman when meeting the conservative parents of their son's fiancee. The film received disdain from some corners and accolades from others.

"In the original French version, Michel Serrault played Albin with mincing gestures and a shrill, hysterical voice, but gave a sense of a real person beneath all that drama-queen fuss," Edward Guthmann wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Lane never becomes real." The Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert, though, praised the movie for "good casting in the key roles" and May's "wicked screenplay."

Nichols received nothing but accolades -- and awards -- for the TV film of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, which aired on HBO in 2003. The director won Emmy and Golden Globes for this epic about the AIDS crisis. "Adapted by Tony Kushner from his own Pulitzer-winning plays and brilliantly put on screen by director Mike Nichols, Angels is a work of surpassing reach and power, a play for the ages saved for the ages," wrote Robert Bianco in USA Today.

Nichols's survivors include his wife, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, along with two daughters, four grandchildren, and a brother.

Go here for clips from The Advocate's favorite Mike Nichols films.

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