John Avildsen, director of Rocky and The Karate Kid, dies aged 81

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Avildsen agreed to direct "Rocky" even though he knew nothing about boxing. Avildsen's son Anthony says his father died Friday, June 16, 2017, in Los Angeles from pancreatic cancer.

Avildsen won the Academy award for Best Director when he directed Rocky that generated $225 million in domestic ticket sales and created an unforgettable cultural phenomenon. Released in 1984, the film centers on a bullied teenager who gains confidence after learning karate from a Japanese handyman.

His penchant for creating moving underdog stories earned him his Oscar for his work in Rocky, simultaneously giving Sylvester Stallone his final push into stardom from his prior B-level status. Avildsen-whose best-known films include Rocky and the first three installments of The Karate Kid franchise-was 81. "Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans", the statement said.

He had been hired to direct Saturday Night Fever after his success with Rocky, but was let go amid differences over his desire to make the story more upbeat than the producers had in mind.

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In accepting the Oscar for best director in March 1977, Avildsen told the audience, "I guess what Rocky did was give a lot of people hope, and there was never a better feeling than doing that". He later returned to the franchise in 1990 to direct Rocky V. In recent years, though, interest has reignited in the man who launched two of the world's biggest sports-film franchises, and a documentary and book, John G. Avildsen: King Of The Underdogs-the former featuring interviews with Stallone, Ralph Macchio, Martin Scorsese, Jerry Weintraub, and Burt Reynolds-arrived earlier this year. He directed seven actors to Oscar nominations. He left quite a nice legacy of films including "The Karate Kid", "Lean on Me", the original "Neighbors" with Aykroyd and Belushi.

John Guilbert Avildsen was born in 1935 in Oak Park, IllInois, the son of a tool manufacturer. The documentary is a companion to the book "The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Other Underdogs", written by Larry Powell and Tom Garrett.

Stallone took to Instagram to pay tribute to Mr Avildsen, who helped usher the actor to stardom: "R. I. P".

The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.

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