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'Death Wish' director Michael Winner dies at 77

January 21, 2013|By Rebecca Keegan
  • "Death Wish" director Michael Winner.
"Death Wish" director Michael Winner. (Jonathan Short / Associated…)

British film director Michael Winner, whose vigilante thriller "Death Wish" painted a grim portrait of crime-plagued, 1970s New York, has died. He was 77.

Winner's wife, Geraldine, said he died Monday at his London home after an illness, the Associated Press reported.

"Death Wish" was a career-making hit for Winner and its star, Charles Bronson, who played Paul Kersey, a New York businessman set on avenging the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter by a group of thugs.

Upon its release in 1974, many critics blasted "Death Wish" for its brutality. The New York Times' Vincent Canby said the movie "seems to have been made for no reason except to exploit its audience's urban paranoia and vestigial fascination with violence for its own sake."

But "Death Wish" became a surprise hit, earning $22 million at the box office and spawning four increasingly grisly sequels over the next 20 years, two of which Winner directed.

Born in London in 1935, Winner specialized in grungy action movies like "Death Wish," including the original, 1972 version of "The Mechanic," which also starred Bronson, this time as an aging hitman, and 1973's "Scorpio," in which Burt Lancaster played a retiring assassin.

After his movie career dwindled, Winner had a second life as restaurant critic. 

He took an unsentimental view of his work as director, once saying, "If you want art, don't mess about with movies. Buy a Picasso."

For a look at an intense scene from "Death Wish," see the video below:

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