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Rocky director John G. Avildsen dies, aged 81

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Rocky's Academy Award-winning director, John G. Avildsen, has died at the age of 81.

The filmmaker passed away last week of undisclosed causes, his spokesperson confirmed to Variety.

Avildsen's name will forever be linked to two of the most beloved films in movie history – Rocky and 80s classic The Karate Kid.

Born in Illinois, Avildsen made his directorial debut in 1969 with the counter-culture drama Turn on to Love. By 1976, he already had nine movies under his belt when United Artists chose him to direct a modest boxing drama by the name of Rocky.

Rocky went on to scoop three Academy Awards, including one for Avildsen as Best Director. He didn’t return for the sequel, but did score another commercial smash in 1984 with The Karate Kid (and later its two follow-ups), before returning to the Rocky fold for the fifth film in the series in 1990.

"I owe just about everything to John Avildsen," Rocky star Sylvester Stallone said in a statement. "His directing, his passion, his toughness and his heart – a great heart – is what made Rocky the film it became. He changed my life and I will be forever indebted to him. Nobody could have done it better than my friend John Avildsen. I will miss him."

Avildsen’s final film was in 1999, the tense action-drama Inferno, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

He's survived by his daughter, Bridget, and sons Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley.