Through an extensive career in film, television, theater and even stints in acting and comedy, Mike Nichols racked up an impressive collection of awards from every branch of show business, including the exceedingly rare EGOT sweep. (He had an Oscar, a Grammy, four Emmys and nine Tonys, among other trophies.) The celebrated director/producer passed away this week at the age of 83.
When Nichols was a young man, he thought he wanted to be a performer. He was even pretty good at it. His pairing with Elaine May for the comedy duo of “Nichols and May” was wildly successful, scoring many appearances on television and radio, as well as best-selling comedy albums, one of which won a Grammy. Nevertheless, Nichols eventually lost his enthusiasm for the spotlight and split with May. He then segued into directing theater, where he found that his true passion was for guiding other performers to some of their best work. His first Broadway production, the Neil Simon romantic comedy ‘Barefoot in the Park’ featuring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley, was a literal blockbuster. Audiences lined up around the block to get in, and the play won Nichols his first Tony.
More theatrical success followed, including the original run of Simon’s comedy ‘The Odd Couple’ with Walter Matthau and Art Carney. Soon enough, Hollywood beckoned for Nichols to bring his magic to the movies. For his first film, he didn’t stray too far from his stage roots, choosing to adapt Edward Albee’s searing drama ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ to screen. With blazing, perhaps career-best performances from Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the movie was nominated in every single Oscar category it was eligible for (13 in all), making it one of only two films to ever do so. While Taylor and supporting actress Sandy Dennis won their trophies, the Best Director and Best Picture awards that year ultimately went to ‘A Man for All Seasons’ instead.
Not to worry, Mike Nichols was back at the ceremony the very next year with ‘The Graduate’, and walked away this time clutching a Best Director statue.
Over the next four decades, Nichols moved back and forth between Broadway and Hollywood. While his later film work may not have quite reached the heights of his first two efforts, he made his share of acclaimed features such as ‘Carnal Knowledge’ and ‘Silkwood’, and box office hits like ‘Working Girl’ and ‘The Birdcage’. In the early 2000s, HBO brought him to television for the (movie and miniseries, respectively) adaptations of the Pulitzer-winning plays ‘Wit’ and ‘Angels in America’, both of which went on to deliver Emmys to the director as well.
Nichols was married four times, the last of which finally stuck. He and journalist Diane Sawyer had been together for 26 years upon the director’s death from a heart attack on Wednesday.
The following Mike Nichols movies are currently available on Blu-ray or are scheduled for release soon:
- ‘The Graduate‘
- ‘Working Girl‘ (January 6th, 2015)
- ‘The Birdcage‘
- ‘Charlie Wilson’s War‘ (January 6th, 2015)