Michael Cimino, Director of Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate, Dead at 77

Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto /Getty Images

Director Michael Cimino, best known for his Oscar-winning Vietnam War classic The Deer Hunter, died today. He was believed to be 77, though there are conflicting accounts regarding his date of birth. His death was confirmed by Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux, who broke the news via Twitter: “Michael Cimino died peacefully, surrounded by his family and the two women who loved him. We loved him, too.”

Cimino’s directing debut was the 1974 crime drama Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, staring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges as the eponymous duo. The strength of Cimino’s debut led to his second and most successful film, 1978’s The Deer Hunter, which was nominated for nine Oscars and won five, including  “Best Director” and “Best Picture” for Cimino. Cimino’s third film, Heaven’s Gate has become a Hollywood cautionary tale. Greenlit for $7.5 million, the epic western, plagued with production problems, ended up costing $44 million, and only made $3.5 million at the box office in 1981. The film’s commercial failure brought its studio, United Artists, to its knees, and did significant damage to Cimino’s directing career. Though panned at the time, critics have been kinder to Heaven’s Gate in recent years, thanks in part to a new director’s cut, which debuted at the 2012 Venice Film Festival.

Cimino by and large avoided the spotlight post–Heaven’s Gate, though he did go on to direct four more films, including Sunchaser, which screened at Cannes in 1996. “Hollywood has always been crazy,” Cimino told The Guardian in 2001. ” It’s controlled anarchy. But how can you loathe something that has given you so much? I wouldn’t have had the life I’ve had without movies. Anybody who says they’re bitter is sick in their soul. They’ve given up.”

Michael Cimino, Deer Hunter Director, Dead at 77