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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Director Sydney Pollack dies of cancer

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack, who achieved commercial and critical success with the gender-bending comedy "Tootsie" and the period drama "Out of Africa, has died. He was 73.

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Sydney Pollack's notable films include "Out of Africa," "Tootsie" and "The Way We Were."

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Pollack died of cancer Monday afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, surrounded by family, said agent Leslee Dart. He had been diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago, said Dart.

Pollack, who often appeared on the screen himself, worked with and gained the respect of Hollywood's best actors in a long career that reached prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act," actor George Clooney said in a statement issued by his publicist. Video Watch how Pollack's career spanned decades »

"He'll be missed terribly," Clooney said.

Last fall, Pollack played Marty Bach opposite Clooney in "Michael Clayton," a drama that examines the life of a fixer for lawyers. The film, which Pollack co-produced, received seven Oscar nominations, including best picture and a best actor nod for Clooney.

Pollack was no stranger to the Academy Awards. In 1986, "Out of Africa" a romantic epic of a woman's passion set against the landscape of colonial Kenya, captured seven Oscars, including best director.

Over the years, several of his other films, including "Tootsie" and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" got several nominations, including best director nods.

Pollack's last screen appearance was in "Made of Honor," a romantic comedy currently in theaters, where he played the oft-married father of star Patrick Dempsey's character.

In recent years, Pollack produced many independent films with filmmaker Anthony Minghella and the production company Mirage Enterprises.

The Lafayette, Indiana, native was born to first-generation Russian-Americans.

In high school, he fell in love with theater, a passion that prompted him to forgo college and move to New York and enroll in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater.

"We started together in New York and he always excelled at everything he set out to do, his friendships and his humanity as much as his talents," Martin Landau, a longtime close friend of Pollack's and an associate from the Actor's Studio, said through spokesman Dick Guttman.

Studying under Sanford Meisner, Pollack spent several years cutting his teeth in various areas of theater, eventually becoming Meisner's assistant.

After appearing in a handful of Broadway productions in the 1950s, Pollack turned his eye to directing.

Pollack is survived by his wife, Claire; two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; his brother Bernie; and six grandchildren.

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