Sydney Pollack Dies at 73

Academy Award-winning director, producer and actor Sydney Pollack, who had been diagnosed with cancer nine months ago, passed away at his Los Angeles home on Monday night. He was 73.

During his long career, Pollack directed anyone who was anyone in Hollywood, including Meryl Steep and Robert Redford in Out of Africa, Sally Field and Paul Newman in Absence of Malice, Tom Cruise and Holly Hunter in The Firm, Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange in Tootsie and Redford and Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were.

George Clooney, who starred with Pollack in 2007’s Michael Clayton, which Pollack co-produced, released a statement, saying, “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. He’ll be missed terribly.”

Pollack won the Oscar for Best Director for 1985’s Out of Africa and humbly attributed the success of the film to his lead actress, who did not win Best Actress that year.

“I could not have made this movie without Meryl Streep,” Pollack said. “She is astounding—personally, professionally, all ways.”

On receiving the John Huston Award in 2000 from the Directors Guild of America, presenter Tom Cruise called him a “defender of artists’ rights, a warrior.”

Field also released a statement about Pollack’s death: “Having the opportunity to know Sydney and work with him was a great gift in my life. He was a good friend and a phenomenal director, and I will cherish every moment that I ever spent with him.”

In his later years, Pollack was also an in-demand character actor. First appearing as Hoffman’s agent in Tootsie (at Hoffman’s request), Pollack went on to have substantial roles in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, Robert Altman’s The Player, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and, most recently, Michael Clayton and Made of Honor. Pollack also worked on television, notably in a recurring role as Eric McCormack’s father on Will & Grace, as well as on The Sopranos, Frasier and Mad About You.

Pollack was born to first generation Russian-American parents in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1934 and began working as an actor and acting coach in New York City in the 1950s. His big break came when famed Manchurian Candidate director John Frankenheimer hired Pollack as an acting coach. This led to work on TV dramas and then his first feature, 1965’s The Slender Thread with Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft.

Long known as an “actor’s director,” Pollack had a knack for discovering talent and casting actors in roles that allowed others to see them in a new light. Pollack cast Greg Kinnear, then the host of E!’s Talk Soup, in his remake of Sabrina. Kinnear went on to receive an Oscar nomination for As Good as It Gets in 1998. He handpicked Fonda and Lange, two actresses who weren’t taken very seriously at the time, for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Tootsie, and both went on to be embraced by Hollywood.

Pollack’s last big-screen directorial effort was 2005’s UN-based thriller The Interpreter, with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. At the time of his death, he was producing the upcoming Ralph Fiennes-Kate Winslet drama, The Reader.

Long an Industry stalwart, Sydney Pollack will be missed.