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Director Blake Edwards, creator of 'Pink Panther,' has died

By Michael Martinez, CNN
Director Blake Edwards has died at the age of 88.
Director Blake Edwards has died at the age of 88.
  • His wife, Julie Andrews, and members of his family were at his side when he died
  • He died of complications from pneumonia at a Santa Monica, California, hospital
  • Edwards, creator of the Pink Panther films, received an honorary Oscar in 2003
  • He was hailed for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" but felt it wasn't his best work

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Director Blake Edwards, best known for his "Pink Panther" film series and "Breakfast at Tiffany's," has died at the age of 88, his publicist said Thursday.

Edwards died Wednesday night of complications from pneumonia at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, publicist Gene Schwam said.

Edwards' wife, actress Julie Andrews, and other members of his family were beside him, Schwam said.

Edwards was the recipient of an honorary Oscar in 2003, when he was praised for establishing himself as one of Hollywood's true comedy auteurs.

Edwards is credited with directing 46 titles, including "Victor Victoria," "S.O.B.," "10," and the Pink Panther series.

Edwards was particularly noted for helping create the role of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the Panther series, a character played by comedy legend Peter Sellers in seven films.

Edwards also wrote for the big and small screen and acted in a number of films, starting in 1942 with "Ten Gentleman from West Point."

Edwards is said to have become romantically involved with Julie Andrews after she heard him once describe her as being "so sweet she probably has violets between her legs."

They began dating after she sent Edwards a bunch of violets and a note. They later married, and they adopted two children from Vietnam.

In a 2002 interview with CNN's Larry King, Edwards described himself as an unconventional, risk-taking filmmaker whose exposure to show business began at an early age. Edwards was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and his stepfather, Jack McEdwards, was a stage director and production manager, and the stepfather's father, J. Gordon Edwards, was a silent screen director.

"Well, I started, as you know, as a kid that came out from Oklahoma," Edwards told King. "My parents were out here. I was born in Oklahoma and when I was old enough I came out here, and my stepfather at that time was in the film business, and as a matter of fact we lived practically on the back lot of Fox, right in that area in Beverly Hills. And, it was that or be a thief."

Edwards initially took to acting.

"I was an actor to begin with and then along came World War whatever it was," Edwards said, referring to World War II.

"I hate to tell you what I did in World War II, but anyway along that came so it stopped everything for a while and then I came back and I thought, well it's an easy life," Edwards added.

By 1961, he became the talk of Hollywood when he directed "Breakfast at Tiffany's," but Edwards said he felt it wasn't his best work.

"It was great fun and all of that stuff, but I didn't like it that much when it was done. I wasn't that much in love with it. There was a lot that I would have done" differently, Edwards said. "I would have stuck more with the (Truman) Capote book. It was tougher. When I came into it, they were talking about (Marilyn) Monroe doing the lead and not Audrey (Hepburn), so that's a whole different character."

Edwards said he met his wife-to-be Andrews while crossing one of Los Angeles' signature thoroughfares, Sunset Boulevard.

"For about six mornings I was going across Sunset. You know they used to have a bridal path on Sunset, and you would cross Sunset and you would stop on that bridal path while the cars passed and then you'd go on, and I kept ending up in this island with Julie Andrews and I kept looking over, and I finally said, 'Are you coming from where I'm going or the opposite of that?' " Edwards said.

"She said, 'I think so,' and it turned out we were both going to our analyst, or coming from our analyst," Edwards said.

They married in 1968, and at the time, they weren't optimistic about their future together.

"We agreed on two things when we got married. We'd take it a day at a time and we'd work together whenever we could so that we spent enough time together. We didn't think it was going to last, so we might as well have a good time," Edwards said.

The Panther series secured his standing in Hollywood.

"The Pink Panther, bless his greedy little heart, has provided me with a comfortable life," Edwards said.

For all his success as actor, writer, director and producer, Edwards acknowledged that he was an alcoholic and a drug user, but he kicked his addictions and had been sober 40 years at the time of the 2002 interview. He also battled clinical depression for much of his life and took medicine, but credited his wife for helping him overcome the condition.

"I became hooked on drugs, and so it was drugs and booze and a whole compulsive lifestyle, and as a writer I was smoking two, three packs of cigarettes a day, and one day I just said that's it. I can't handle it anymore, and I stopped drinking and I stopped smoking and I practically stopped breathing," Edwards said.

"Thank God I had a career that was taking off," he added. "I know some people aren't lucky enough to be able to seize that opportunity. I was so desperate to succeed and be something, that I was driven."