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'The Deer Hunter' Director Michael Cimino Has Died At 77

Cimino in 2015 receiving the Pardo D'Onore Swisscom award in Switzerland. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
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Michael Cimino, best known for directing the Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter was found dead in his Los Angeles home Saturday. He was 77.City News Service reports that friends had been unable to reach Cimino by phone, so police were called to his residence. According to the L.A. County coroner's office, Cimino had been dead since Thursday, but cause of death is pending investigation.

Filmmaker William Friedkin, who directed The French Connection and The Exorcist, tweeted his condolences:

Born in New York City, Cimino graduated from Yale with an art degree before making commercials and moving to Los Angeles. In the early 1970s, Cimino shared screenwriting credits on the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force and Silent Running. He made his directorial debut with 1974's Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges—the latter would be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.

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While his debut wasn't too shabby, Cimino's The Deer Hunter released a few years later earned him a spot as one of the seminal American directors of the '70s. The film won five Academy Awards, including best picture and director at the Oscars, but even if it hadn't, it is an utter masterpiece:

In a statement to Variety, the film's star Robert De Niro said, "Our work together is something I will always remember. He will be missed."

Unfortunately, things were pretty much downhill from there for Cimino, career-wise. His next film, 1980's Heaven's Gate—about the conflict between cattle ranchers and Eastern European immigrant homesteaders in 1890s Wyoming—was a notorious failure. Production went way over budget, and the set was grueling for the actors, it makes stories from The Revenant set look like child's play. Cimino amassed more than one million feet of footage to be edited.

At the time, the nearly 4-hour-long film was a commercial and critical flop, but in recent years, perhaps spurred by a 2012 Criterion Collection-released "Director's Cut" popular opinion seems to have swung back around in favor of the auteur's vision for the film. The haters were wrong all along: Heaven's Gate is a thing of beauty.

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But, bearing the scarlet letter of Heaven's Gate, Cimino directed a series of "meh" films to close out his career over the last 20 years: 1985's Year of the Dragon starring Mickey Rourke, Mario Puzo adaptation The Sicilian, 1990's Desperate Hours, and his final feature in 1996 starring Woody Harrelson, Sunchaser.

So R.I.P, Michael Cimino. In closing, here is a lengthy Hollywood Reporter interview with Cimino that touches on comparisons between American Sniper and The Deer Hunter, war, the nuttiness of Quentin Tarantino, and more. It's a great read.