Deer Hunter director Michael Cimino dead at 77

Michael Cimino, the Oscar-winning director whose film The Deer Hunter became one of the great triumphs of Hollywood’s 1970s heyday, and whose disastrous Heaven’s Gate helped bring that era to a close, has died.

Cimino died Saturday at age 77, Los Angeles County acting coroner’s Lt. B. Kim told The Associated Press. He said Cimino had been living in Beverly Hills but did not yet have further details on the circumstances of his death.

Eric Weissmann, a friend and former lawyer of Cimino’s, said friends had been unable to reach Cimino by phone for the last few days and called the police, who found him dead in his bed. He said Cimino had not been ill that he had known of.

Cimino’s masterpiece was 1978’s The Deer Hunter, the story of the Vietnam War’s effect on a small steel-working town in Pennsylvania. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Cimino. It helped lift the emerging-legend status of Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. Christopher Walken also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

“Our work together is something I will always remember. He will be missed,” De Niro said in a statement Saturday.

Despite controversy over its portrayal of the North Vietnamese and use of the violent game Russian roulette, the film was praised by some critics as the best American movies since The Godfather six years earlier.

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