Michael Winner: Death Wish director dies aged 77
- 21 January 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Film director and newspaper columnist Michael Winner has died, aged 77, his wife Geraldine has confirmed.
Born in Hampstead, London in 1935, he directed more than 30 films, including Death Wish and Scorpio.
He was also famous for his barbed restaurant reviews, written for The Sunday Times under the banner "Winner's Dinners".
Winner had been ill for some time. Last summer, he said liver specialists had given him 18 months to live.
Paying tribute to her husband, Mrs Winner said: "Michael was a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous.
"A light has gone out in my life."
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber said he would "deeply miss" his friend, writing on Twitter: "True originals come rarely in a lifetime."
Monty Python comedian John Cleese added: "I have just heard the very sad news about Michael. He was the dearest, kindest, funniest and most generous of friends.
"I shall miss him terribly."
And Winner's former editor at The Sunday Times, Andrew Neil, said: "So sad to hear of death of my old mate Michael Winner. One of life's great characters."
Martin Ivens, acting editor of The Sunday Times, added: "For nearly 20 years he delighted readers with his inimitable Winner's Dinners column.
"He was also not afraid to laugh at himself and rejoiced in the huge postbag of letters which poked gentle fun at him - often he would forward particularly insulting letters that had been sent straight to him for inclusion alongside his column. He will be greatly missed."
A law graduate from Cambridge University, Winner had written about film for local papers and, later, the NME, before he joined Motion Pictures Limited as a writer and editor in 1956.
By 1962, he had directed his first full-length movie, Play it Cool, a pop musical starring Billy Fury, at Pinewood Studios.
He established his own film company, Scimitar, in the mid-1960s and made a number of satirical films starring Oliver Reed, including The System and I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name.
But he became more well-known for his action movies, especially the violent Death Wish series, starring Charles Bronson as an architect who turns vigilante after his wife and daughter are murdered.
Speaking to The Big Issue last year, Winner said he knew the film would be his epitaph.
"When I die, it's going to be 'Death Wish director dies'," he said.
"I don't mind though - Death Wish was an epoch-making film. The first film in the history of cinema where the hero kills other civilians.
"It had never been done before. Since then it has been the most copied film ever. Tarantino put it in his top 10 films ever made."
In later years, Winner also directed and starred in a series of commercials for a car insurance company featuring the catchphrase: "Calm down dear!"
It was fuel to the fire of critics who felt Winner was a brash, sexist oaf, but he insisted it was all done with a hefty dose of irony.
"If you create this comedy character of wealth and opulence swanning around, people hate you," he told The Independent in 2010.
"But the ones who hate me don't get me at all. They don't get the joke."
For his entry in the 2012 edition of Who's Who, the director listed his interests as "eating, being difficult, making table mats, washing silk shirts" and "doing Pilates badly".
But he was also a charity campaigner, who established The Police Memorial Trust after the fatal shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.
That led to the unveiling of the National Police Memorial in central London, which honours officers killed in the line of duty, in 2005.
Winner was reportedly offered an OBE for his charity work the following year but turned it down, saying: "An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King's Cross station".
The director had experienced a run of ill-health since eating a bad oyster on holiday in Barbados in 2007. It gave him the rare bacterial infection Vibrio vulnificus, which kills about 50 per cent of its victims within 48 hours.
He was on the brink of death five times and underwent a gruelling 19 operations, including the removal of three tendons, leaving him with mobility difficulties.
Later, he picked up the E coli infection from a steak tartare, and was hospitalised eight times in the last few months of his life.
But he continued to write his weekly column for The Sunday Times until 2 December, 2012, signing off with the headline: "Geraldine says it's time to get down from the table. Goodbye."
Winner met his wife 56 years ago, but did not marry until 2011 in a small ceremony witnessed by actor Michael Caine and his wife Shakira.
Mrs Winner said her husband had died on Monday at his home in Kensington, London, where she had been nursing him.