Czech-born director Milos Forman, who won best directing Oscars for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, has died. He was 86.
Forman died in the US after a brief illness, Reuters reported, quoting the director’s wife, Marcia, as telling the Czech news agency CTK that “his departure was calm and he was surrounded the whole time by his family and his closest friends.”
Having made just one American film at the time, the ironic comedy Taking Off (1971), which won critical acclaim but failed to connect with audiences, Forman seemed an unlikely choice to direct the adaptation of Ken Kesey’s counterculture novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
The critically-lauded and immensely popular film starring the fast-rising Jack Nicholson struck a nerve in 1975, and on Academy Awards night it became the first film since 1934’s It Happened One Night to sweep the top five Oscar prizes: best picture, director, actress, actor and screenplay (adapted).
Asked why he had taken on the film, Forman said its setting in a mental asylum mirrored his life under Communism in his native Czechoslovakia.
“Communism was my Nurse Ratchet,” he said, “telling me what to do, what think, even what to be.”
To shoot Amadeus Forman returned to Czechoslovakia in 1983 and used little-known theatre actors to play Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Thomas Hulce) and his rival Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham).
Forman created a compelling and cogent adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s award-winning stage play — helped in great measure by the magnificent Mozartian score.
Again, Forman ruled the Oscars, taking another director trophy as the film also drew awards for picture, actor (Abraham), and screenplay, winning eight awards in all. The film was also his most financially successful after One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Over the years Forman directed few films, and his American track record was mixed. Though Cuckoo’s Nest transformed him into an A-list director, he waited four years before his next film, tackling another challenging piece of material, Hair, based on the ’60s smash hit musical.
Forman appeared next in 1989 with Valmont, an adaptation he co-penned of the French period novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses and starring Colin Firth and Annette Bening. While graceful and witty, the film suffered from comparison to the more melodramatic Dangerous Liaisons, released the previous year and starring John Malkovich and Glenn Close.
He didn’t direct again until he issued two other satirical pieces in the late ’90s, The People vs. Larry Flynt starring Woody Harrelson and Man on the Moon, about the offbeat comic Andy Kaufman starring Jim Carrey.
Born in the town of Kaslov, near Prague, Jan Tomas Forman was raised by an uncle and in foster homes following the death of his parents in WWII concentration camps.