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Acclaimed director Alan Pakula killed in car accident

Web posted on:
Friday, November 20, 1998 2:09:46 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Alan Pakula, a producer and director known for bringing stories of the human heart and suspense to the screen through movies like "Sophie's Choice" and "All the President's Men," died in a car accident on Long Island Thursday.

Pakula, 70, was driving on a suburban highway when a metal bar crashed through the windshield and struck his head, Suffolk County police said. He lost control of his 1995 Volvo, which hit a fence. He suffered massive injuries and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police said the seven-foot-long metal bar was lying in the roadway and apparently became airborne after a car ahead of Pakula's hit it.

CNN's Gloria Hillard looks back on the career of Alan Pakula

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ALSO: Films directed or directed and produced by Alan Pakula

Noted director

Pakula was born April 7, 1928, in New York. In 1948, after graduating from Yale University, he moved to Hollywood. He began as a production assistant at Paramount at the age of 22, and got his first chance at moviemaking by working as a producer.

But Pakula would become best known for directing.

His directorial success began with "The Sterile Cuckoo" in 1969, starring Liza Minnelli in one of her earliest film roles. His thriller "Klute," in which Jane Fonda played a call girl stalked by a killer, was followed by another thriller, "The Parallax View," starring Warren Beatty.

Pakula liked to call the three films -- "Klute," "The Parallax View" and "All the President's Men -- his "paranoid trilogy," his publicist said.

He was later nominated for an Academy Award for his direction of the 1976 movie "All the President's Men," a gripping account of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate investigation starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

But he was also a writer, adapting screenplays from novels for "The Pelican Brief," "Presumed Innocent," and "Sophie's Choice," for which he was nominated for a best adapted screenplay Oscar.

During a 1993 interview on the Julia Roberts/Denzel Washington movie "The Pelican Brief," he talked about the challenge of bringing a best-selling novel to the screen.

Pekula working on one of his recent films, "The Pelican Brief" with Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts

"You can't be intimidated," he said of the movie adapted from John Grisham's thriller. "You have to see it with your vision and if you believe it strongly enough, people will start to find your vision becomes their vision."

Although Pakula was nominated, he never won an Academy Award. But under his direction, Jane Fonda won an Oscar for best actress for "Klute," Jason Robards won an supporting actor Oscar for "All the President's Men" and Streep won the best actress award for "Sophie's Choice." In addition, Gregory Peck won an Oscar for "To Kill a Mockingbird," which Pakula produced.

Talking in 1997 about his work in "The Devil's Own," he said the story of an IRA terrorist who escapes to New York interested him because "most of us live in a safe world. We don't have to fight for our values, we don't have to fight for our freedom, we don't have a sense of injustice.

"We're kind of cocooned, and the problems of the rest of the world are something that are just not totally real to most of us," he said.

Death shocks film industry

News of Pakula's death shook the film industry.

"I can't believe it," said Robards. "I not only worked for him, I loved him very much."

Robards said Pakula was a meticulous director during filming of "All the President's Men."

"We didn't rush. We had to be very careful to make sure it was the truth. This was Washington," Robards said.

His last movie was the 1997 drama/thriller "The Devil's Own," starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt. At the time of his death, Pakula was working on a screenplay about the White House story during the time of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Pakula is survived by his wife, Hannah, and three stepchildren.

Correspondent Gloria Hillard and Reuters contributed to this report.

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