Milos Forman, the Oscar-winning director behind Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon, died Friday at 86. A representative confirmed Forman’s death to Rolling Stone, saying that the director died at Danbury Hospital near his home in Warren, CT.
Forman’s wife Martina told the Czech news agency CTK that the director died following a short illness, Reuters reports. “His departure was calm and he was surrounded the whole time by his family and his closest friends,” Martina said.
Forman won two Best Director Oscars, for Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among a slew of other awards. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson about a revolt at a mental institution, became only the second film to win all five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay), while 1984’s Amadeus, the biopic of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, won eight Oscars, including Best Picture.
Throughout his career, Forman gravitated to highlighting fringe members of society, humanizing creative, volatile geniuses of which he could proudly claim his own spot.
The Directors Guild of America said of Forman in a statement, “Milos was truly one of ours. A filmmaker, artist, and champion of artists’ rights. His contribution to the craft of directing has been an undeniable source of inspiration for generations of filmmakers. His directorial vision deftly brought together provocative subject matter, stellar performances and haunting images to tell the stories of the universal struggle for free expression and self-determination that informed so much of his work and his life.”
“Milos the magnificent! čest k jeho památce (honour to his memory) light a good cigar, raise a drink, and shout ‘HOVNO HOVNO HOVNO’,” tweeted Cuckoo’s Nest actor Danny DeVito.
“Milos was a master of his craft, and perhaps had mastered the art of living too,” People vs. Larry Flynt actor Woody Harrelson added in a statement. “He was a loving papa bear who would yell your name with his big Czech voice when you entered the set or restaurant and wrap his arms around you and make you feel like the center of the world. We have lost one of the great filmmakers and people today.”
Forman began his career as a filmmaker in his native Czechoslovakia, a pioneering figure of the Czech New Wave movement before finding an international audience with his 1965 drama Loves of a Blonde, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Forman’s next film, 1967’s The Firemen’s Ball, was a biting satire on communism that was “banned forever” from being screened in Czechoslovakia. Despite the controversy surrounding the movie, The Firemen’s Ball was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
After emigrating to America in the late Sixties following the “Prague Spring” uprising and buoyed by the acclaim of The Firemen’s Ball, Forman directed his first English language film, 1971’s music comedy Taking Off, before he was recruited to helm a planned adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. For Forman, the film was symbolic of his own life in communist Czechoslovakia.
“I explained I wanted to make the film because to me it was not just literature but real life, the life I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968,” Forman told the Directors Guild of America in 2013 when he was awarded the guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award for filmmaking. “The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would go on to become one of the most celebrated films of all time, landing on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Movies List as well as the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, while Nicholson’s portrayal of the protagonist Randle McMurphy is considered one of the actor’s most iconic roles.
Michael Douglas, who produced Cuckoo’s Nest, told Rolling Stone in 1975, “We wanted Forman because he is a realistic and a funny director. We knew we needed someone who could handle the comedy. He has a very delicate eye: a great ability to go from humor to pathos, sometimes in the same frame. He’s been living in the States long enough to understand the peculiarly American aspects of the book but he still has that profound Central European sensibility.”
“Sadly, we just lost one of the greatest directors in the history of film,” Douglas said Saturday. “I cherish everything he taught me. My family sends their deepest sympathies to Martine and their children.”
Forman, who was raised by family members after both of his parents were killed in Nazi concentration camps, told Rolling Stone in 1975, “You ask me, is McMurphy crazy? I don’t want to know this. Is he a hero? I don’t know this either. A modern hero is very ambiguous. I went through some very rough times in Czechoslovakia – the occupation by the Germans at the end of the war. We had people going against their tanks with brooms. Are they nuts or are they heroes? Because when you see it, you say, ‘This man is insane.’ When it’s over, you yourself – who wouldn’t go – you call him a hero.”
Forman followed Cuckoo’s Nest with a big screen adaptation of the musical Hair in 1979 and the epic period piece Ragtime in 1981. In 1984, Forman won his second Best Director Oscar for his work on Amadeus, a Mozart biopic of sorts through the gaze of the composer’s rival Antonio Salieri. The film won eight Oscars, including Best Picture.
Following 1989’s Valmont, Forman received a third Best Director nomination for 1996’s The People vs. Larry Flynt. Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The People vs. Larry Flynt focused on one man’s fight against the establishment, with Woody Harrelson starring as the controversial Hustler publisher who embarked on a lengthy First Amendment battle against the government and Reverend Jerry Falwell that led all the way to the Supreme Court.
“I will always be grateful to him for telling my story in ‘The People vs Larry Flynt.’ He was a remarkable man with extraordinary talent. I will miss his presence on this earth,” Flynt, who called Forman one of the “true visionaries,” said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter.
In 1999, Forman fixed his camera on another outlier, the comedy legend Andy Kaufman, for the biopic Man on the Moon, which featured Jim Carrey completely immersing himself into the Kaufman role; the 2017 documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton highlighted Carrey’s difficult acting technique on the film as well as the director’s attempts to rein the actor in.
“Another great one passes through the doorway. Milos Foreman. What a force. A lovely man. I’m glad we got to play together. It was a monumental experience,” Carrey tweeted.
Forman released his final directorial feature Goya’s Ghost in 2006, a film that centered on the Spanish painter Francisco Goya.
“Milos Forman was our friend and our teacher,” tweeted Man on the Moon and The People vs. Larry Flynt producer Larry Karaszewski. “He was a master filmmaker – no one better at capturing small unrepeatable moments of human behavior. We made two movies together and every day spent with him was a unique adventure. Milos loved life. I will miss his laughter.”
“Very sad to hear that the great director Miloš Forman has passed away. He had a tremendous filmography that documented the rebel heart and human spirit,” director Edgar Wright tweeted. “I have seen ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ enough times to be able to silently mouth along with the movie. RIP.”