British film director and newspaper columnist Michael Winner has died, aged 77, his wife Geraldine has confirmed.
Born in Hampstead, London in 1935, Michael Winner directed more than 30 films, including Death Wish and Scorpio.
Michael Winner was also famous for his barbed restaurant reviews, written for The Sunday Times under the banner Winner’s Dinners.
He had been ill for some time. Last summer, he said liver specialists had given him 18 months to live.
Paying tribute to her husband, Geraldine Winner said: “Michael was a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous.
“A light has gone out in my life.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber said he would “deeply miss” his friend, writing on Twitter: “True originals come rarely in a lifetime.”
Comedian John Cleese added: “I have just heard the very sad news about Michael. He was the dearest, kindest, funniest and most generous of friends.
“I shall miss him terribly.”
Michael Winner’s former editor at The Sunday Times, Andrew Neil, said: “So sad to hear of death of my old mate Michael Winner. One of life’s great characters.”
A law graduate from Cambridge University, Michael Winner had written about film for local papers and, later, the NME, before he joined Motion Pictures Limited as a writer and editor in 1956.
By 1962, Michael Winner had directed his first full-length movie, Play it Cool, a pop musical starring Billy Fury, at Pinewood Studios.
He established his own film company, Scimitar, in the mid-1960s and made a number of satirical films starring Oliver Reed, including The System and I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name.
But he became more well-known for his action movies, especially the violent Death Wish series, starring Charles Bronson as an architect who turns vigilante after his wife and daughter are murdered.
Speaking to The Big Issue last year, Winner said he knew the film would be his epitaph.
“When I die, it’s going to be <<Death Wish director dies>>,” he said.
“I don’t mind though – Death Wish was an epoch-making film. The first film in the history of cinema where the hero kills other civilians.
“It had never been done before. Since then it has been the most copied film ever. Tarantino put it in his top 10 films ever made.”
In later years, Michael Winner also directed and starred in a series of commercials for a car insurance company featuring the catchphrase: “Calm down dear!”
It was fuel to the fire of critics who felt Michael Winner was a brash, sexist oaf, but he insisted it was all done with a hefty dose of irony.
“If you create this comedy character of wealth and opulence swanning around, people hate you,” he told The Independent in 2010.
“But the ones who hate me don’t get me at all. They don’t get the joke.”
For his entry in the 2012 edition of Who’s Who, Michael Winner listed his interests as “eating, being difficult, making table mats, washing silk shirts” and “doing Pilates badly”.
Michael Winner was also a charity campaigner, who established The Police Memorial Trust after the fatal shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.
That led to the erection of the National Police Memorial in central London, which honors officers killed in the line of duty.
Michael Winner was reportedly offered an OBE for his charity work in 2006 but turned it down, saying: “An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross station.”
The director had experienced a run of ill-health since eating a bad oyster on holiday in Barbados in 2007. It gave him the rare bacterial infection Vibrio vulnificus, which kills 95% of its victims within 48 hours.
Michael Winner was on the brink of death five times and underwent a gruelling 19 operations, including the removal of three tendons, leaving him with mobility difficulties.
Later, he picked up the E coli virus from a steak tartare, and was hospitalized eight times in the last few months of his life.
But he continued to write his weekly column for The Sunday Times until December 2, 2012, signing off with the headline: “Geraldine says it’s time to get down from the table. Goodbye.”
Michael Winner met his wife Geraldine 56 years ago, but did not marry until 2011 in a small ceremony witnessed by actor Michael Caine and his wife Shakira.
Geraldine Winner said her husband had died on Monday at his home in Kensington, London, where she had been nursing him.