Mike Nichols understood and celebrated the power of everyday human experiences. As a director he crafted stories about love, heartbreak, death, grief, anger, humor and hope, placing them in the context of modern-day life and examining them under a microscope via the stage and screens both big and small.
The Hollywood legend, who was honored with Emmy, Tony, Grammy and Golden Globe Awards as well as a Best Director Oscar for "The Graduate," died Wednesday. He was 83.
A performer who ultimately found his career niche behind the camera, Nichols spent more than five decades cajoling award-winning performances out of a diverse company of actors that includes Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Cher, Shirley MacLaine, Alan Arkin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeffrey Wright, Robin Williams, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, Anne Bancroft, Sigourney Weaver, Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith, John Travolta, Kathy Bates and Larry Hagman.
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Here, some of his most beloved screen outings:
"The Graduate" (1967)
Capturing the post-college malaise affecting his protagonist Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), Nichols used held a mirror up to middle-class America as it wrestled with the growing youthquake of the 1960s. Braddock's affair with the wife of a family friend (Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson utters the oft quoted famous question from the film: "Would like to seduce me?") and then subsequent relationship with her daughter was underscored perfectly with music by Simon & Garfunkel.
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"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966)
Real-life pair Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton play a married couple whose seemingly pleasant academic life unravels over the course of one volatile and argument-filled evening at home. At times funny and horrific, the film peels back the emotional layers until the characters face their deepest fears and regrets. "Woolf" was awarded five Academy Awards including the Best Director win for Nichols.
"Working Girl" (1988)
Melanie Griffith plays Tess McGill, the titular character of this movie that explores the role of women in the workplace, class and interoffice relationships against the backdrop of Wall Street greed and ambition in the 1980s. Sigourney Weaver is the boss trying to keep our heroine down while Harrison Ford plays the man enamored of both McGill's beauty and brains.
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"The Birdcage" (1996)
A broad comedy farce, this remake of the popular French musical "La Cage aux Folles" stars Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and Diane Weist as two disparate couples — one, a gay nightclub owner and his longtime partner who is also his headlining drag act, the other a right-wing Senator who founded the Coalition of Moral Order and his buttoned-up wife — who must come together for the sake of their soon-to-be-married children.
Nichols' first foray into strict drama was awarded five Oscars. A true story about a whistle-blower at a plutonium processing plant was also Nichols' first on-screen collaboration with Meryl Streep. The two Hollywood heavyweights would go on to team up three more times: "Heartburn" (1986), "Postcards From the Edge" (1990), "Angels in America" (2003) and the in-development HBO adaptation of Terrance McNally's play "Master Class," about legendary opera diva Maria Callas.
"Angels in America" (2003)
Nichols fashioned Tony Kushner's award-winning play about the advent of HIV/AIDS in New York City in the 1980s into powerful six hour, two-part miniseries featuring Streep and an all-star cast that would go on to win 11 Emmys and five Golden Globe Awards.