When people pass away, we often praise them with, “What couldn”t they do?” Exaggeration. With Mike Nichols, there”s really no answer to the theoretical. A seasoned comedian, a pillar of New York City theater, a successful film director – earning a Best Picture nomination, four Best Director nominations, and one win in the latter category – and one of only 12 people to successfully collect the coveted EGOT, when it came to the entertainment industry, there really wasn”t anything he couldn”t do. He went out on a high. Thursday morning, we learned that Nichols passed away at the age of 83.
Fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany in 1938, Nichols wound up in New York City and called the city home for nearly his entire life. Attending college in Chicago, he became part of the theater and comedy scenes, joining Second City and forming the comedy duo Nichols and May, along with actress Elaine May. If you”ve never listened to their albums or seen their tapings, treat yourself – they”re legendary. Nichols won a Best Comedy album Grammy award for 1961″s “An Evening With Mike Nichols And Elaine May.”
When the duo went their separate ways, Nichols blossomed into the film and stage director we know today. A man of the theater, his films are unusually sensitive towards the written word. Nichols emerged as a drama-first auteur with films like “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “The Graduate,” “Catch-22,” “Carnal Knowledge,” “The Day of the Dolphin,” “The Fortune,” “Silkwood,” “Heartburn,” “Biloxi Blues,” “Working Girl,” “Postcards from the Edge,” “Regarding Henry,” “Wolf,” “The Birdcage,” “Primary Colors,” “What Planet Are You From?” “Closer,” and “Charlie Wilson's War.”
Nichols was nominated four times for the Best Director Academy Award, for his work on “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Silkwood,” and “Working Girl,” picking up the statue for “The Graduate.” He earned a Best Picture nomination for producing James Ivory's “The Remains of the Day.” His direction led actors and actresses like Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Sigourney Weaver, Melanie Griffith, Richard Burton, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Cher to Oscar nominations.
Sensing fluidity between stage and screen, Nichols segued back and forth between Hollywood and Broadway with unparalleled ease. He directed original runs of “Barefoot in the Park,” (earning him a Best Director Tony) “The Odd Couple,” (another Best Director) “Annie,” (and another!) “The Gin Game,” “Hurlyburly,” “Death and the Maiden,” and “Spamalot” (a show that marked his eighth Best Director Tony). He restaged and revived everything from “Uncle Vanya” to Sondheim's “Sunday in the Park with George” to “Death of a Salesman,” a Philip Seymour Hoffman-led production that earned Nichols his ninth Tony. His final effort, a revival of Harold Pinter”s “Betrayal” starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, closed its doors on Jan 5. 2014.
For lack of a better representation of his theater career, here”s Hoffman delivering one of the greatest movie monologues of all time.
Like all high-minded, genre-bending creatives, Nichols found a home at HBO helming stage adaptations. In 2001, he directed Emma Thompson in “Wit.” Two years later, he directed the two-part “Angels in America” mini-series. He earned Best Directing Emmys for both productions. Nichols was set to translate “Master Class,” based on Terrence McNally's award-winning play, for the network in 2015, a film that would have reteamed him with Streep.
Mike Nichols was one of a kind, encountering no medium he could challenge, energize, and wire into the endlessly watchable. He”ll be missed. Leave your thoughts below.