LOS ANGELES — Mike Nichols, the Oscar-winning director of “The Graduate” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” was remembered by friends and colleagues as an artist, a mentor and a constant source of laughter and inspiration.
Condolences and remembrances from across the entertainment industry poured in after news broke that Nichols had died suddenly on Wednesday at the age of 83.
“An inspiration and joy to know, a director who cried when he laughed, a friend without whom, well, we can’t imagine our world, an indelible irreplaceable man,” said Meryl Streep, who worked with Nichols on “Silkwood,” “Heartburn” and the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.”
Over more than five decades, Nichols moved seamlessly between Broadway, television and movies, becoming one of the only people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony — achieving “EGOT” status. His notable films include “Working Girl,” “Primary Colors” and “The Birdcage,” and he also oversaw stage hits such as “Spamalot,” “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple.”
He was also a performer in his own right, as one half of the comedy duo Nichols and May with Elaine May.
Director Steven Spielberg hailed Nichols’ versatility and personal virtues.
“This is a seismic loss,” he said. “Mike was a friend, a muse, a mentor, one of America’s all time greatest film and stage directors, and one of the most generous people I have ever known.
Like many Americans who came of age in the 1960s, “The Graduate” resonated the most profoundly for Spielberg.
“For me, ‘The Graduate’ was life-altering — both as an experience at the movies as well as a master class about how to stage a scene,” he said. “Mike had a brilliant cinematic eye and uncanny hearing for keeping scenes ironic and real. Actors never gave him less than their personal best, and then Mike would get from them even more. And in a room full of people, Mike was always the center of gravity.”
Tom Hanks, who worked with Nichols on the political comedy “Charlie Wilson’s War,” evoked one of the director’s credos in paying tribute to his late friend.
“Forward. We must always move forward. Otherwise what will become of us?” said Hanks. “Mike Nichols, who changed the lives of those who knew him, who loved him, who will miss him so.”
The accolades and achievements never went to his head, HBO CEO Richard Plepler said in a statement.
“Everyone overuses the word legend, particularly in our business,” he said. “But Mike was in a class by himself. Brilliant, wise and a remarkable artist whose body of work for theater, film and television is simply unrivaled. But more importantly, he was also a consummate gentleman. The combination of all that talent and menschness won’t be found again anytime soon.”
Nichols successfully turned stage hits such as “Wit” and “Angels in America” into Emmy-winning successes for HBO.
Tom Stoppard worked with Nichols on “The Real Thing,” which scored both men Tony Awards.
“Everyone who was close to Mike has suffered a loss which cannot be repaired, ever,” said Stoppard. “To have been his friend was a blessing. To have worked with him was both a privilege and the best of times. He was my hero.”
John Goodman, who was directed by Mike Nichols in “What Planet Are You From?” and the off-Broadway production of “The Seagull,” said it was hard to imagine a world without Nichols.
“He made me feel as though I were a full partner or co-conspirator in finding clues to solve the puzzle; like a really slow Dr. Watson,” Goodman said. “It’s hard to imagine a world without him.”