Michael Winner: Death Wish director dies aged 77


The director became well-known for his action films

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Film director and newspaper columnist Michael Winner has died, aged 77, his wife Geraldine has confirmed.

Born in Hampstead, London in 1935, he directed more than 30 films, including Death Wish and Scorpio.

He was also famous for his barbed restaurant reviews, written for The Sunday Times under the banner "Winner's Dinners".

Winner had been ill for some time. Last summer, he said liver specialists had given him 18 months to live.

Paying tribute to her husband, Mrs Winner said: "Michael was a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous.

"A light has gone out in my life."

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber said he would "deeply miss" his friend, writing on Twitter: "True originals come rarely in a lifetime."

Monty Python 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."

And 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."

Martin Ivens, acting editor of The Sunday Times, added: "For nearly 20 years he delighted readers with his inimitable Winner's Dinners column.

"He was also not afraid to laugh at himself and rejoiced in the huge postbag of letters which poked gentle fun at him - often he would forward particularly insulting letters that had been sent straight to him for inclusion alongside his column. He will be greatly missed."

Michael Winner's one-liners

  • The only way to hold a decent dinner party in Hollywood now is to have a seance.
  • Cooking is not a speciality act. It does not require four men juggling lavatories or a set of trapeze artists.
  • Ideally, the average woman needs 25 hours attention a day and if she could get a bit more she'd try for that.
  • Men are ridiculous. Women are far better people. Much wiser (not difficult) and with a temperament to deal with life's complexities and men's abrasiveness. They're also far better at washing socks and darning.
  • I've had 130 lovers so I've had a good run. Geraldine makes up for all of them.
  • A little vulgarity is a thoroughly good thing.
  • I do not lurk. I ponce about, cause trouble, bring light and happiness to the world and generally behave with impeccable (if misplaced) self-assurance.

A law graduate from Cambridge University, 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, he 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, 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 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."

Michael Winner and Diana Dors In 1963 he directed Diana Dors in a bedroom scene for the crime drama West 11

For his entry in the 2012 edition of Who's Who, the director listed his interests as "eating, being difficult, making table mats, washing silk shirts" and "doing Pilates badly".

But he 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 unveiling of the National Police Memorial in central London, which honours officers killed in the line of duty, in 2005.

Winner was reportedly offered an OBE for his charity work the following year 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 about 50 per cent of its victims within 48 hours.

He 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.

The Queen and Michael Winner The Queen unveiled the National Police Memorial alongside Winner in 2005

Later, he picked up the E coli infection from a steak tartare, and was hospitalised eight times in the last few months of his life.

But he continued to write his weekly column for The Sunday Times until 2 December, 2012, signing off with the headline: "Geraldine says it's time to get down from the table. Goodbye."

Winner met his wife 56 years ago, but did not marry until 2011 in a small ceremony witnessed by actor Michael Caine and his wife Shakira.

Mrs Winner said her husband had died on Monday at his home in Kensington, London, where she had been nursing him.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Whenever Winners movies are mentioned it's always nasty the Death Wish ones, but he also made a brilliant movie about the Olympic Marathon called 'The Games', it featured Michael Crawford, Ryan O'Neal and Charles Aznavour as runners representing their respective countries.It's a bit dated and un Pc in places, but fasinating. I hope the BBC shows it, at the time it changed my life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Please get your basic science correct. E.coli is a bacteria NOT a virus, does no-one check the accuracy of these articles before they appear on the BBC website?

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    A man who was truly multi- talented, and a witty and gutsy individualist who always trod his own path, and seemed to have a great laugh on the way. We are running out of such souls.
    RIP sir.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    I only purchased the Sunday Times to read his column and something went out of my life when it stopped. I had a feeling that it may be health issues and am so sorry that it was.

    RIP Michael, you will be missed for a very long time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Great eccentric and larger than life character. People slagging him off should be ashamed of themselves. RIP

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    He will be sadly missed, the Sunday Times isn't the same anymore without him. Loved his honesty, his amusing stories, his food reviews and excellent writing, and how he faced up to his illness - what a character! Deepest sympathies to Geraldine and to his PA Dinah.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    The number of comments deemed unacceptable by the moderators makes me suspect that the house rules are (i) too numerous and (ii) too politically correct for this forum to have much value.
    Unlike the moderators, the rules can be scrutinised.
    I think they should be identified and made to justify their decisions.
    Does anyone agree with me?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    A great character, never afraid to" speak his mind". Always enjoyed his reviews in the Sunday Times and whenever he appeared on television.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Who cares if it was 35 or 55! If e-coli is a bacterium or virus! If you nerds want to argue n split hairs, go do it elsewhere! On here is not appropriate or welcome! Have you n decency??

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    "Calm down dear" I promise i will never ever lend an RAF transporter plane to the French ever again! Regards Flashman

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    He had an annoying smug expression that greatly irritated me but I did like his sense of humour & some of his films. Something positive I found to say which is more than can be said of Jeremy Clarkson. R.I.P

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    207. watchman123
    "Quite a lot of evil bigots on here who wouldn't dare speak their mind in public, but hide behind a keyboard"

    Er, that your real name then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    In part as a response the self - appointed Winner hagiographers hereabouts , and being genuinely sorry for his family's loss, I think it is quite admissible to say, in the interest of balance, that many found Mr Winner a bore and an unpleasant, insufferable snob - albeit a self-confessed one.

    "An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King's Cross station."

    What a man, indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    I saw Michael Winner in a t.v. show where celebrities stay with a family for a couple of days. Mr Winner was a charming house guest, bought a selection of wines for the family and, so I heard, kept in touch with them after and had them over to dinner a few times. A real character and a nicer guy than he was probably given credit for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    I respected Mr Winner as a "self-made" individual and also for such a long and successful relationship with his dear wife.

    However I have to admit his "Winner's Dinners" column was way above my head (and rank) and I found them a touch tedious and a reflection of (albeit well-earned) over self-indulgence covering restaurants that many of us less successful types will never even glimpse.

  • Comment number 216.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Did he really direct 30 films ? I only remember those infuriating adverts he appeared in promoting motor insurance !

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    I had the pleasure of meeting him once. And, my, what a larger than life personality! I didn't always agree with his forthright opinions. But I'd sit and watch any time he was interviewed. You knew you were going to get an honest genuine character. Rather than the manufactured dull media clones of today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    @185 The irony is that the BBC is removing comments here that may be "un-PC".

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Those making derrogotory comments on here about the recently deceased say more about themselves than those they comment upon.

    RIP Michael - you entertained millions and we salute you for it.


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