MIKE NICHOLS (born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky, 1931) was an American film and theater director, producer, actor, and comedian who died on this date. He was noted for his ability to work across a range of genres and for his aptitude for getting the best out of actors regardless of their experience. Nichols began his career in the 1950s with the comedy improvisational troupe The Compass Players, predecessor of The Second City, in Chicago. He then teamed up with his improv partner, Elaine May, to form the comedy duo Nichols and May. Their live improv act was a hit on Broadway, and the first of their three albums won a Grammy Award.
In 1966, Warner Brothers invited Nichols to direct his first film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring none other than Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The groundbreaking film inspired some critics to declare Nichols the “new Orson Welles”. It won five Academy Awards (out of 13 nominations) and was the top-grossing film of 1966. His next film, The Graduate (1967), starred then unknown actor Dustin Hoffman, alongside Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross. It was another critical and financial success, became the highest-grossing film of the year, and received seven Academy Award nominations, winning Nichols the Academy Award for Best Director.
Among the other films Nichols directed were Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, Wolf, The Birdcage, Closer and Charlie Wilson’s War.
Nichols was married four times, including his last marriage to television journalist Diane Sawyer; the first three ended in divorce, the last, to Sawyer, upon his death. There has been much speculation that Nichols was bisexual and that he also had a discreet decade-long affair with photographer Richard Avedon, according to Avedon’s studio director and business manager. Mark Harris, Nichols’ biographer (Mike Nichols: A Life), says he was unable to find reliable confirmation of this.
Nichols died of a heart attack in November 2014, at his apartment in Manhattan.