John G. Avildsen
Avildsen in 1975
John Guilbert Avildsen

(1935-12-21)December 21, 1935
DiedJune 16, 2017(2017-06-16) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other namesJohnny Avildsen
OccupationFilm director
Years active1969–2017
  • Marie Olga Maturevich (Melissa McCall)
Tracy Brooks Swope
(m. 1987; sep. 2006)

John Guilbert Avildsen (December 21, 1935 – June 16, 2017) was an American film director. He is best known for directing Rocky (1976), which earned him the Academy Award for Best Director. He is also renowned for directing the first three films in The Karate Kid franchise (1984–1989). Other films he directed include Joe (1970), Save the Tiger (1973), The Formula (1980), Neighbors (1981), Lean on Me (1989), Rocky V (1990), 8 Seconds (1994), and Inferno (1999).

Early life

Avildsen was born in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Ivy (née Guilbert) and Clarence John Avildsen.[1] He was educated at Indian Mountain School, the Hotchkiss School and at New York University.[2]


After starting out as an assistant director on films by Arthur Penn and Otto Preminger and acting as director of photography on the 1969 film, Out of It, Avildsen's early low-budget feature Joe (1970) received good notices for star Peter Boyle and was a big box-office hit grossing $26 million from a $100,000 budget.[3] Avildsen followed this early success with the low-budget 1971 cult classic comedy film Cry Uncle! (released in the UK as Superdick and on video as American Oddballs), a 1971 American film in the Troma Entertainment library that stars Allen Garfield.[4] This was followed by Save the Tiger (1973), a film nominated for three Oscars, winning Best Actor for star Jack Lemmon.[5]

His greatest success came with Rocky (1976), which he directed working in conjunction with writer and star Sylvester Stallone.[6] The film was a major critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1976 and garnering ten Academy Award nominations and winning three, including Best Picture and Best Director.[7] Avildsen later returned to direct what was then expected to be the series' final installment, Rocky V (1990).[8]

He directed the mystery-drama The Formula (1980), starring Marlon Brando and George C. Scott,[9] for which he was nominated for Razzie Award for Worst Director.

Avildsen's other films include Neighbors (1981), For Keeps (1988), Lean on Me (1989), The Power of One (1992), 8 Seconds (1994),[10] and the first three The Karate Kid films.[11]

He was the original director for both Serpico (1973) and Saturday Night Fever (1977), but was fired over disputes with, respectively, producers Martin Bregman and Robert Stigwood.[12] Although his job directing Serpico was terminated, Avildsen became long time friends with the film's real life subject Frank Serpico, even sharing a property with him on Long Island, New York during the early 1980s.[13]

His last film was Inferno (1999), starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.[14]

A documentary on the life, career and films of Avildsen was released in August 2017, approximately two months after his death. John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs (2017), directed and produced by Derek Wayne Johnson,[15] features interviews with Sylvester Stallone, Ralph Macchio, Martin Scorsese, Jerry Weintraub, and Burt Reynolds, among others.[16] The documentary is a companion to the book The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid, and other Underdogs, written by Larry Powell and Tom Garrett.[17]

Personal life

Avildsen's first wife was Marie Olga Maturevich (Melissa McCall). After they divorced, he married actress Tracy Brooks Swope in 1987; they separated in 2006.[2] He had four children. His estranged son, Ash (born November 5, 1981), founded Sumerian Records and has a son, Izzy Avildsen.[18] Another son, Jonathan Avildsen, appeared in the films The Karate Kid Part III and Rocky V. His eldest son was named Anthony, and he had a daughter, Penelope Avildsen. John also had a daughter with Tracy Swope, named Bridget.[19]


Avildsen died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on June 16, 2017. He was 81.[20][19] The cause of his death was pancreatic cancer, according to his son Anthony Avildsen.[21]


Year Film Notes
1969 Turn on to Love
1970 Guess What We Learned in School Today?
Joe Also cinematographer
1971 Cry Uncle!
1971 Okay Bill
1973 Save the Tiger
1974 The Stoolie
1975 Fore Play
W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings
1976 Rocky Academy Award for Best Director
Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Direction
1978 Slow Dancing in the Big City
1980 The Formula Nominated—Razzie Award for Worst Director
1981 Neighbors
1982 Traveling Hopefully Nominated—Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject
1983 A Night in Heaven
1984 The Karate Kid
1986 The Karate Kid Part II
1987 Happy New Year
1988 For Keeps
1989 Lean on Me
The Karate Kid Part III Nominated—Razzie Award for Worst Director
1990 Rocky V Nominated—Razzie Award for Worst Director
1992 The Power of One
1994 8 Seconds
1999 Inferno


  1. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (June 19, 2017). "John Avildsen obituary". The Guardian. Archived from the original on June 19, 2017. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Lentz, Harris III (August 2017). "John G. Avildsen, 81". Classic Images (506): 49.
  3. ^ Hoberman, J. (July 30, 2000). "FILM; Off the Hippies: 'Joe' and the Chaotic Summer of '70". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 17, 2017. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  4. ^ Thompson, Howard (August 18, 1971). "The Screen:'Cry Uncle' Combines Sex and Whodunit". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 25, 2021. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 15, 1973). "Screen: 'Save the Tiger':Lemmon Battles Middle Age at Tower East The Cast". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 10, 2020. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  6. ^ Powell, Larry; Garrett, Tom (2013). The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid and Other Underdogs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-7864-6692-4. Archived from the original on 2021-06-24. Retrieved 2021-06-24.
  7. ^ Powell & Garrett 2013, pp. 83–84.
  8. ^ Powell & Garrett 2013, pp. 186–192.
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 19, 1980). "'The Formula' for Synthetic Oil". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 25, 2021. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  10. ^ Powell & Garrett 2013, pp. 116, 161, 168, 195, 202.
  11. ^ Powell & Garrett 2013, pp. 131, 143, 179.
  12. ^ Powell & Garrett 2013, pp. 53, 89–90.
  13. ^ D'Ambrosio, Antonino (2017). Frank Serpico (Documentary). Gigrantic Pictures, La Lutta NMC. IDFC9497.
  14. ^ Powell & Garrett 2013, p. 213.
  15. ^ Drown, Michelle (January 26, 2017). "John Avildsen: King of the Underdogs". Santa Barbara Independent. Archived from the original on June 26, 2019. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  16. ^ Farber, Stephen (February 8, 2017). "'John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs': Film Review | Santa Barbara 2017". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on September 2, 2023. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  17. ^ Powell & Garrett 2013.
  18. ^ Gitter, Mike (September 25, 2012). "Sumerian Records Founder Ash Avildsen on Success, 'Sumeriancore' and His Famous Father (Exclusive)". Archived from the original on May 2, 2013. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Fleishman, Jeffrey (June 16, 2017). "'Rocky' director John G. Avildsen dies at 81". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 4, 2018. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  20. ^ Dwyer, Colin (17 June 2017). "John Avildsen, Oscar-Winning Director Of 'Rocky' And 'Karate Kid,' Dies At 81". NPR. Archived from the original on 24 June 2018. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  21. ^ Salam, Maya (June 16, 2017). "John Avildsen, Director of 'Rocky' and 'The Karate Kid,' Dies at 81". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 17, 2017. Retrieved June 16, 2017.