In an up-and-down career that spanned writing, directing and producing nearly 50 films, Edwards, who died late Wednesday, cultivated more than his share of indelible characters: Peter Sellers‘ bumbling Inspector Clouseau of the “Pink Panther” movies, Dudley Moore’s equally clueless George Webber from “10,” Audrey Hepburn’s high fashion wild child Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany‘s.”
He knew laughter and sadness, making alcoholism seem hilarious in “10” and desperate in “Days of Wine and Roses.” But his strength was comedy, farce and slapstick that he captured in a visual style trained on silent comedies. It was, after all, in his blood.
Edwards‘ stepfather, Jack McEdwards (the family name), was an assistant director, and his stepfather’s father, J. Gordon Edwards, was a pioneering director of silent films. Though born in Tulsa, Okla., Edwards was raised on movie sets. He was an extra and supporting actor before he was a filmmaker.
A child of Hollywood who made his home there, he would forever have a conflicted relationship with the industry he assailed, but to which he kept returning. He dropped in and out of favor, feuded with producers and famously satirized Hollywood in 1981’s scathing “S.O.B.”
“I was certainly getting back at some of the producers of my life,” Edwards 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.”
But he also made movies that added to Hollywood’s bottom line, particularly in the “Pink Panther” films.
In one of his last public appearances at a tribute from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in October, Edwards opened his remarks with fitting sarcasm: “Can I go now?”
When the academy gave him an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2004, he accepted the award with a slapstick gag right out of his own movies: He careened across the stage in a wheelchair, snagging the statue from Jim Carrey and crashing into the set.
“That felt good,” he said, dusting himself off.
Edwards, 88, died from complications of pneumonia at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., after being hospitalized for about two weeks. He had knee problems, had undergone unsuccessful procedures and was “pretty much confined to a wheelchair for the last year-and-a-half or two,” said publicist Gene Schwam, who knew him for 40 years.
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.
“He was the most unique man I have ever known-and he was my mate,” Andrews said in a statement Thursday. “He will be missed beyond words, and will forever be in my heart.”