Robert Altman speaking from the stage after receiving an Honorary Academy Award this past March 5, 2006, at the 78th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles.  (Photo: AMPAS)

Thursday, November 23, 2006 --

On Monday night, November 20, 2006, Robert Altman, the American director of such films as "Nashville", "Short Cuts", "The Player" and "Gosford Park", died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, from complications due to cancer.  Altman was 81.  He is survived by his wife Kathryn Reed Altman and six children, twelve grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

As recently as March 5th of this year at the 78th Annual Academy Awards Altman was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for his achievement in motion picture directing.  At that time during his speech he revealed a secret he had kept for at least a decade: that he had a heart transplant.  Very few in Hollywood had known, except his family and one or two of his very closest friends.  The rationale for staying silent it was later revealed, was so that he could have a sustaining career, which he feared would not occur had he disclosed his transplant.  Citing the youthful heart (of a woman in her 30's) beating within him, he said " . . .by that calculation you may be giving me this award, too early."

Also at the awards show that night Altman spoke of his decorated career as a director, putting it in a serendipitous light: "No filmmaker has gotten a better shake than I have.  I'm very fortunate in my career.  I've never had to direct a film I didn't choose or develop.  I love filmmaking.  It has given me an entree to the world, and to the human condition and for that I'm forever grateful."

Robert Altman was born in Kansas City in 1925.  He had an illustrious career, directing over 30 feature films, including such titles as "Nashville", "M*A*S*H*", "The Long Goodbye", "Come Back to The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean", "McCabe and Mrs. Miller", "Vincent and Theo", "Kansas City", and "Gosford Park".  The film that re-established Altman was "The Player" (1992), which was immensely popular with critics and audiences alike.  Altman won the top award at that year's Cannes Film Festival, the Palm D'Or, as well as it's best director award, for the film.  He was also nominated for Best Director by the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for "The Player" and for four other films including "Nashville" and "Gosford Park". 

Altman's most recent film was "A Prairie Home Companion", which was released in June 2006.  It starred the typical ensemble cast that Altman loved to work with.  Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin, cast members from the film about Garrison Keillor's radio variety show, introduced Altman to the stage last March at the 78th Annual Academy Awards to receive his Oscar, which had eluded him as a nominee on all occasions in his career as a filmmaker.

Several of his actors paid tribute to him earlier this week.  "When he was working he had a youthful joyfulness that was just amazing," said Bob Balaban.  Kenneth Branagh said: "He was a great man of cinema and a great man.  Everybody who had the privilege to know him will miss him hugely."  Richard Gere, speaking of his pride of working with Altman, said: "He was the deepest ocean and the lightest feather at the same time . . . we all loved him so very much."   Garrison Keillor said: "Mr. Altman loved making movies.  He loved the chaos of shooting and the sociability of the crew and actors -- he adored actors -- and he loved the editing room and he especially loved sitting in a screening room and watching the thing over and over with other people. . .  I'm sorry that our movie ["A Prairie Home Companion"] turned out to be his last, but I do know that he loved making it.  It's a great thing to be 81 and in love."

Altman was actually beginning to shoot his next feature film.  Virginia Madsen added: "Working with him was one of the great experiences of my life.  I am blessed to have worked with him and to have known him as Bob.  My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Kathryn and his children."  Tim Robbins said in part, that Altman "leaves behind a legacy of great American films and he will be deeply missed".  Meryl Streep, who worked with him on "Prairie Home", said that "Bob's restless spirit has moved on -- I have to say, when I spoke with him last week, he seemed impatient for the future.  He still had the generous, optimistic appetite for the next thing, and we planned the next film laughing in anticipation of the laughs we'd have.  What a gent, what a guy, what a great heart.  There's no one like him and we'll miss him so."

We will miss Robert Altman indeed.  One of America's greatest directors has exited stage left -- but is looking down on the enormous stage of canvas from which he painted his celluloid masterpieces, presiding with a directorial flourish once again.

                                                                                                                                                              -- Omar P.L. Moore, Editor
                                                                                                                                                                       The Popcorn Reel

(Donations in Mr. Altman's name can be made out to Cedars-Sinai Hospital Heart and Lung Transplant Unit.)



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