LOS ANGELES (AP) - Blake Edwards, the director and writer known for clever dialogue, poignance and occasional belly-laugh sight gags in “Breakfast at Tiffany‘s,” “10” and the “Pink Panther” farces, is dead at age 88.
Edwards died from complications of pneumonia at about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, said publicist Gene Schwam. Blake’s wife, Julie Andrews, and other family members were at his side. He had been hospitalized for about two weeks.
Edwards had knee problems, had undergone unsuccessful procedures and was “pretty much confined to a wheelchair for the last year-and-a-half or two,” Schwam said. That may have contributed to his condition, he added.
At the time of his death, Edwards was working on two Broadway musicals, one based on the “Pink Panther” movies. The other, “Big Rosemary,” was to be an original comedy set during Prohibition, Schwam said.
“His heart was as big as his talent. He was an Academy Award winner in all respects,” said Schwam, who knew him for 40 years.
A third-generation filmmaker, Edwards was praised for evoking classic performances from Jack Lemmon, Audrey Hepburn, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Lee Remick and Andrews, his wife of nearly half a century.
He directed and often wrote a wide variety of movies including “Days of Wine and Roses,” a harrowing story of alcoholism; “The Great Race,” a comedy-adventure that starred Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood; and “Victor/Victoria,” his gender-bender musical comedy with Andrews.
He was also known for an independent spirit that brought clashes with studio bosses. He vented his disdain for the Hollywood system in his 1981 black comedy, “S.O.B.”
“I was certainly getting back at some of the producers of my life,” he once remarked, “although I was a good deal less scathing than I could have been. The only way I got to make it was because of the huge success of `10,’ and even then they tried to sabotage it.”
Because many of his films were studded with farcical situations, reviewers often criticized his work. “In Mr. Edward’s comic world, noses are to be stung, heads to have hangovers, and beautiful women to be pursued at any cost,” wrote The New York Times’ Vincent Canby in a review of “10.” Gary Arnold of the Washington Post added: “Edwards seems to take two dumb steps for every smart one. … He can’t seem to resist the most miserable sight gags that occur to him.”
However, Richard Schickel wrote in Time magazine: “When director Edwards is at his best, there is something bracing, and in these days, unique about his comedy. … He really wants to save the world by showing how stupid some of its creatures can be.”
Although many of Edwards‘ films were solid hits, he was nominated for Academy Awards only twice, in 1982 for writing the adapted screenplay of “Victor/Victoria” and in 1983 for co-writing “The Man Who Loved Women.” Lemmon and Remick won Oscar nominations in 1962 for “Days of Wine and Roses,” and Hepburn was nominated for “Breakfast at Tiffany‘s” in 1961.
The motion picture academy selected Edwards to receive a lifetime achievement award in 2004 for “his writing, directing and producing an extraordinary body of work for the screen.”
When he collected the award, he jokingly referred to his wife: “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, and the beautiful English broad with the incomparable soprano and promiscuous vocabulary thanks you.”
Edwards had entered television in 1958, creating “Peter Gunn,” which established a new style of hard-edged detective series. The tone was set by Henry Mancini’s pulsating theme music. Starring Craig Stevens, the series ran until 1961 and resulted in a 1967 feature movie “Gunn.”