Milos Forman: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus director dies aged 86

Milos Forman, director of Oscar-winning classics One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, has died at the age of 86.

The filmmaker’s death was confirmed by his wife Martina last night having suffered from a short illness.

Born in Czechoslovakia in 1932, his parents were killed in Auschwitz and he spent much of his childhood in a boarding school for war orphans. From the early 1950s to late 60s, he worked on a variety of short documentaries before emigrating to New York after his country was taken over by the Soviet Union.

From then on, his directing career took off with his first major American feature being the dark comedy Taking Off (1971) which starred Lynn Carlin and Buck Henry as a couple who try to locate their rebellious daughter. Despite being a financial disappointment, the film received six BAFTA nominations for which Forman was acknowledged in Best Director and Best Screenplay.

The film caught the attention of actor Michael Douglas who approached Forman about working on a big-screen adaption of Ken Kesey’s acclaimed novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This proved a masterstroke especially when Jack Nicholson was cast in the lead role of Gerald McMurphy, a mischievous con who decides to spend time in a mental institute and engages in a battle of wills with the cruel Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).

Cuckoo’s Nest went on to be a phenomenal success and would garner a stack of awards including six Golden Globes, six BAFTAs and five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Nicholson) and Best Actress (Fletcher). Forman himself would win Best Director from all three awards groups with the film still considered to be one of the greatest ever made.

After a four year hiatus, Forman then worked on the musical dramedy Hair (1979) which was based on the hit Broadway show. That was then followed by the period drama Ragtime (1981) which focused on an aspiring black musician (Howard E. Rollins Jr.) who became embroiled in the lives of an upper-class white family in 1900s New York. The film featured James Cagney’s last screen performance and was nominated for eight Oscars but went home empty-handed.

However his next project would lead to more awards success as he helmed the music-based biopic drama Amadeus (1984). The film centered on the real-life rivalry between renowned composers Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and would go on to win four Golden Globes and an impressive eight Oscars. At the time, Forman became the fourteenth filmmaker to win the Best Director category twice when he received his gold statuette.

Remarkably, he only went on to direct five more films after that feat with the first being the period drama Valmont (1989) which featured a young Colin Firth and Annette Bening. Several years later, he then made the real-life drama The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) which starred Woody Harrelson as headline-making pornography publisher Larry Flynt. Forman would win his third Golden Globe for his work on the film and also received his final Best Director nomination.

In 2000, he then directed another biopic in Man on the Moon which saw Jim Carrey portray the controversial comedian Andy Kaufman, a role that won Carrey his second Golden Globe. The last major film that Forman worked on was Goya’s Ghosts (2006) which depicted a scandal involving real-life artist Francisco (Javier Bardem) and his muse (Natalie Portman).

He is survived by his third wife and four sons.

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