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Mike Nichols, Director of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Birdcage, Dead at 83

Mike Nichols, Director of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Birdcage, Dead at 83

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The director, who enjoyed a famous comic partnership with Elaine May before reinventing himself as a director with a string of iconic movies, is survived by his fourth wife, Diane Sawyer

Mike Nichols, who fled Germany as a young boy in 1939, and went on to establish himself as one of America's most thrilling directors, has died at the age of 83.

Nichols, a one-time comedian who enjoyed a famous comic partnership with Elaine May in the 1950s, was born Michael Igor Peschkowsky on November 6, 1931, in Berlin. His family escaped to the U.S. in 1939, and his first experience of America was seeing Hebrew on the billboard of a New York deli, and asking his father, "Is that allowed?" Not only was Hebrew allowed, but America turned out to offer the young Peschkowsky a career of astonishing depth and breadth.

Whos_afraid_of_virginia_woolf_1966dropinBy the end of the '50s Nichols was earning half a million dollars a year as one half of the comedy duo, Nichols & May. The duo won a Grammy for Best Comedy Performance for their 1960 album, An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and were household names. "When they worked together, the sum was even greater than the combination of the parts," Woody Allen told Vanity Fair in 2013. "The two of them came along and elevated comedy to a brand-new level."

After Nichols and May split at the height of their popularity in 1961, Nichols turned to film, directing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966, and then The Graduate a year later. Both films remain totems of 1960s American cinema, and fixtures of film studies courses around the world.

Among Nichols other successes was the '80s nuclear paranoia thriller, Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep; the romantic comedy, Working Girl (1988), with Melanie Griffiths, Harrison Ford, and Sigourney Weaver; and The Birdcage (1996), with the late Robin Williams, one of the most successful gay-themed movies of all time. In 2003 he directed Tony Kushner's Angels in America for HBO. The series won five Golden Globes, including gongs for Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, and went on to break the record for most Emmys awarded a program in a single year, with a grand total of 11 awards and 21 nominations.

Nichols was also a giant of theater, staging the original production of Barefoot in the Park and Monty Python reunion vehicle, Spamalot. Through the course of his long career, he won eight Tonys for Best Director.

Mike Nichols is survived by three children and his fourth wife, the news anchor Diane Sawyer.

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