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 331.

    2 Hours ago

    I am very sorry, but Mr Winner’s; death is not important in the grand scheme of things, but as a fellow human being my respects to his family and freinds, RIP

    I see nothing 'Human Being' about this comment at all. We know about the rest of the world issues,but weve lost an eccentric Brit with a personality. He may have not been everyones cup of tea,but still RIP

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Calm down dear, it's only a commercial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Condolences to his family and friends.

    A true individual. He never did what was expected. Fearless opinions and a lot of humour. Love him or hate him, but you couldn't ignore him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    He was a card. He made the world more interesting and more fun. Good on him!

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Scott Heatherley. In your opinion, his films were dire, but then again, what makes you an expert. Lets have the names of some of YOUR great films? What? you haven't made any? Oh dear not worth listening to you then.
    R.I.P Micheal, and thanks for a lot of laughs and some memorable films.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    If ever you had to pick some one to play a (fake) cantankerous, belligerent old man Michael would be the "Winner". I didn't have the pleasure of speaking directly to him or meeting him but he had followed me on twitter,just because I asked him to. That sort of bloke. Honest and opinionated and only his mattered,but why not.From the minuscule amount I knew of him I liked him. A fighter for right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    I know its not appropriate, but I'd like to use this comment to advertise my new product. Calm down people - it's only a commercial...

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Long after film making he had his hobby of dining out as a retirement career, his columns were often ruthlessly critical, yet also often generous and self-deprecating without being patronising. Aware of his achievements he evinced social confidence few celebrities can match, and had no qualms about any public opinion against him. He wouldn't have cared that I didn't like his films, I still don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    I really enjoyed those Death Wish films, and Charles Bronson was unreal, probably inspired Clint Eastwood's persona in a lot of his films. Its a shame this man isn't around to make more of them, I'm going to watch a few others because I only know him so far for Death Wish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    @117. RTFishall

    Sad news. I always liked him as he loved getting up people's noses and didn't care what he said........


    Well he won't be getting up anymore people's noses will he?

    That depends on whether he's cremated or not...

  • Comment number 321.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    I never saw his films but often read his Sunday Times column which I found entertaining and enjoyed his style.

    I remember his last line in the Sunday Times, typical of the way he wrote, so just looked them up :

    "So this is it: goodbye. I've been writing this column for nearly 20 years and I don't want a carriage clock or a gold watch. I am trying to get rid of stuff, not collect it"


  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    @310 Myself

    I lost one of my best mates and Ex-flatmates from University last weekend, he was only 26, one of my sisters, is helping bury here fiancés grandmother today, so perhaps I think that this topic is a little miss guided, people we must remember all the death in this world, and send our prayers to them all, personally and as humanity as a whole, even if it is for a few moments a day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Oh lord, I'm sad. Has the news been broken to Nick Jones who lives in Le Drome France? As the most famous of Michael's protagonists - Winners Dinners - he'll be bereft to say the least. Above all though - thinking of Geraldine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    Just read his Obit..., why oh why would someone turn down an award from their country (by way of an OBE), on the grounds that he thought he should be awarded something better - That says it all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    You will never find a more honest and straightforward bloke. No matter what you thought of his political opinions, it's a shame our politicians don't take a leaf out of his book.

    Another of the few remaining charachters left. RIP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Loved "The Jokers" in particular. Always bought the Sunday Times mainly to read his restaurant reviews, Loved the ads. He will be missed. Yes - a national treasure. Condolences to Geraldine and family at this time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    In these days of the grey drabness of socialist inclusivespeak we need colourful people like Mr Winner more than ever. The ability to laugh at oneself is the most obvious property that is absent in the social dictators of today like the BBC. We lost a good man today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    RIP you delightful scoundrel, I shall miss you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    309. Tony Foster
    Triple heart bypass in 1993 surprisingly not mentioned here.... Daily Mail have reported it in their obit. Can only assume cutbacks are to blame. RIP Mr Winner
    It's mentioned in the BBC obit as well, if not in the succinct article.


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