Milos Forman, Director of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ Dies at 86
The world has lost one of its great (and Oscar winning) directors: The New York Times reports that Milos Forman, Academy Award winner for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, has died. He was 86 years old.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Forman moved to the U.S. following the Soviet invasion of his home country in the late 1960s. He had a complicated family history; his mother was killed in a German concentration camp, along with the man he believed was his father. Only much later did he learn his biological father was another man, and that he had survived World War II and escaped to Peru. After film school, Forman made waves on the international scene with early films like The Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman’s Ball.
Then he came to America. His first Hollywood production, Taking Off, was a flop. But then Forman was chosen to direct the film version of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson. The movie was a smash, and went on to become just the second film in history to sweep the top five prizes (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress) at the Academy Awards. Both Nicholson’s McMurphy and co-star Louise Fletcher’s menacing Nurse Ratched became iconic film characters.
Forman followed up Cuckoo’s Nest with Hair, based on the hit Broadway musical, and Ragtime, from the E.L. Doctorow novel. Then he scored another era-defining hit with 1984’s Amadeus, a story of the rivalry between the young Mozart and another compsoer, Antonio Salieri (played in the film by Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham, respectively). That film won eight Oscars, including Best Picture and another Best Director prize for Forman.
Forman’s output slowed after that. He directed just five features in the final 30 years of his life, although both of his 1990s biopics, The People vs. Larry Flynt, about the infamous publisher of Hustler, and Man on the Moon, about eccentric comedian Andy Kaufman, were critical successes. You could recently see Forman trying to wrangle a performance out of Jim Carrey in Netflix’s Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, a fascinating documentary about the making of Man on the Moon drawn from behind the scenes footage from the set that was never previously released. Forman appears looking very flustered by his star, who remained in character throughout the shoot.
Forman didn’t have the most extensive of filmographies; just 20 directing credits over his lifetime. But he has two Best Picture winners to his name, and both of those films have continued to inspire and entertain several subsequent generations of movie lovers. If that’s his legacy, it’s a pretty darn good one.