John G. Avildsen

John Guilbert Avildsen (December 21, 1935 – June 16, 2017) was an American film director. He is perhaps best known for directing Rocky (1976), which earned him the Academy Award for Best Director. Other films he directed include Joe (1970), Save the Tiger (1973), The Formula (1980), Neighbors (1981), Lean on Me (1989), Rocky V (1990), 8 Seconds (1994) and the first three The Karate Kid films.

John G. Avildsen
John Guilbert Avildsen

(1935-12-21)December 21, 1935
DiedJune 16, 2017(2017-06-16) (aged 81)
Other namesJohnny Avildsen
OccupationFilm director
Years active1969–2017
Spouse(s)Marie Olga Maturevich (Melissa McCall) (?–?)
Tracy Brooks Swope (1987–2006; separated)
Children3 sons
1 daughter
Parent(s)Ivy (née Guilbert) and Clarence John Avildsen

Life and family

Avildsen was born in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Ivy (née Guilbert) and Clarence John Avildsen.[1] He was educated at The Hotchkiss School and New York University.[2] John is of Danish heritage.

Avildsen's first wife was Marie Olga Maturevich (Melissa McCall). After they divorced, he married actress Tracy Brooks Swope in 1987; they separated in 2006.[2] He had four children. His estranged son Ash (born November 5, 1981), founded Sumerian Records.[3] Another son, Jonathan Avildsen, appeared in the films The Karate Kid Part III and Rocky V. His eldest son was named Anthony and he had a daughter Penelope Avildsen. John also had an daughter with Tracy Swope, Bridget.[4]


After starting out as an assistant director on films by Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger, Avildsen received his first success with the low budget feature Joe (1970) which received good notices for star Peter Boyle and moderate box-office business.

This was followed by Save the Tiger (1973), a film nominated for three Oscars, winning Best Actor for star Jack Lemmon. Both Joe and Save the Tiger were about losers, but as the 1970s continued, Avildsen shifted to people who went on to be victorious.

Avildsen's greatest success was Rocky (1976), which he directed working in conjunction with writer and star Sylvester Stallone. The film was a major critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1976 and garnering ten Academy Award nominations and winning three, including Best Picture and Best Director. He later returned to direct what was then expected to be the series' final installment, Rocky V (1990). (Later installments were released in 2006, 2015, and 2018).

He directed the mystery-drama The Formula (1980), starring Marlon Brando and George C. Scott. He was nominated for Razzie Award for Worst Director.

His other films include Neighbors (1981), For Keeps (1988), Lean on Me (1989), The Power of One (1992), 8 Seconds (1994) and the first three The Karate Kid films.

Avildsen was the original director for both Serpico (1973) and Saturday Night Fever (1977), but was fired over disputes with producers Martin Bregman and Robert Stigwood, respectively.

His last-ever film Inferno (1999), starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

A documentary on the life, career and films of Avildsen was released in August 2017. John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs (2017) is directed and produced by Derek Wayne Johnson and features interviews with Sylvester Stallone, Ralph Macchio, Martin Scorsese, Jerry Weintraub, Burt Reynolds amongst others. The documentary is a companion to the book The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid, and other Underdogs, written by Larry Powell and Tom Garrett.


Avildsen died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on June 16, 2017. He was 81.[5][6] The cause of his death was pancreatic cancer, according to his son, Anthony Avildsen.[7]


1969Turn on to Love
1970Guess What We Learned in School Today?
1971Cry Uncle!
1971Okay Bill
1973Save the Tiger
1974The Stoolie
1975Fore Play
W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings
1976RockyAcademy Award for Best Director
Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Direction
1978Slow Dancing in the Big City
1980The FormulaNominated—Razzie Award for Worst Director
1982Traveling HopefullyNominated—Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject
1983A Night in Heaven
1984The Karate Kid
1986The Karate Kid Part II
1987Happy New Year
1988For Keeps
1989Lean on Me
The Karate Kid Part III
1990Rocky V
1992The Power of One
19948 Seconds


  1. "John G. Avildsen Biography (1935–)". 1935-12-21. Retrieved 2012-10-18.
  2. Lentz, Harris III (August 2017). "John G. Avildsen, 81". Classic Images (506): 49.
  3. Gitter, Mike (September 25, 2012). "Sumerian Records Founder Ash Avildsen on Success, 'Sumeriancore' and His Famous Father (Exclusive)". Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  4. Fleishman, Jeffrey (June 16, 2017). "'Rocky' director John G. Avildsen dies at 81". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  5. "John Avildsen, Oscar-Winning Director Of 'Rocky' And 'Karate Kid,' Dies At 81". Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  6. Fleishman, Jeffrey (June 16, 2017). "'Rocky' director John G. Avildsen dies at 81". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  7. "John Avildsen, Director of 'Rocky' and 'The Karate Kid,' Dies at 81". The New York Times. 16 June 2017.
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