Mike Nichols knew funny. Mike Nichols was funny. But the multitalented director, writer, producer and actor, who died Wednesday night aged 83, forged a uniquely individual career that wasn't comprised of just jokes. During his over six decades in entertainment, Nichols redefined movie comedies by successfully blending deep humanism with political and social commentary — yet always left his audiences laughing.
An EGOT winner (four Emmys, one Grammy, one Oscar and nine Tonys), Nichols leaves behind an incredible legacy. Here are just some of his most beloved collaborations and projects:
Nichols fans will have a hard time divorcing his name from Elaine May's: The pair connected in the 1950s in an improv troupe that become Chicago's seminal Second City. Nichols and May and went on to perform on radio, in nightclubs, on Broadway and recorded three albums (winning a Grammy in 1962). Over the decades May wrote several scripts for Nichols-directed films, including "The Birdcage" and "Primary Colors."
'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' (1966)
Nichols hit it out of the ballpark on his first shot at directing, corralling the always volatile Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton into portraying an angry, disappointed academic couple during one extended bicker-fest of an evening. The film earned five Oscars, including one for Nichols' direction.
'The Graduate' (1967)
One word: "Plastics." Few movies can be said to shape a generation while introducing some of its greatest new talents as "The Graduate" did. Nichols saw promise in a young Dustin Hoffman and a not-so-well-known Simon & Garfunkel (who provided the soundtrack) in the 1967 film about a college graduate at loose ends who has an affair with an older woman.
Film was one thing, but Nichols was in his element on the stage; his nine Tonys attest to his prowess at handling musicals and plays over the years. He was the first director to bring the comic about a redheaded, irrepressible orphan to Broadway in 1977, kicking off a million takes on "Tomorrow" and ultimately earning another Tony in the process. The show ran for nearly six years.
The first of his numerous collaborations with Meryl Streep (they also paired up on 1986's "Heartburn," 1990's "Postcards From America" and 2003's HBO miniseries "Angels in America") was a shift into straight drama for Nichols, who directed Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen's based-on-a-true-story script about a plutonium processing plant whistleblower. The film earned five Oscar nominations.
'Working Girl' (1988)
Nichols was in top form for the Harrison Ford/Melanie Griffith/Sigourney Weaver comedy about a young woman from Staten Island who wants a job and some respect — and who'll maybe take over her incapacitated boss' office for a while if that helps her on her way. Nichols found a way to address class, the American dream and feminism — all in the form of a truly hilarious film.
'The Birdcage' (1996)
Nichols frequently mined the stage for inspiration, starting with "Woolf'; "Birdcage" was an adaptation of a play that had been turned into a musical and a 1978 movie, and starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. The pair played a gay couple who run a drag club and have a "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" moment when their son brings home a fiancée ... and the fiancée's very conservative parents.
'Angels in America' (2003)
Taking on Tony Kushner's magical two-part Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the ravages of AIDS on the gay community was not a project to be taken lightly, but Nichols proved precisely the man for the job. The star-studded, nearly six-hour project for HBO was one of Nichols' only forays into television, and won 11Emmys.
'Charlie Wilson's War' (2007)
One last time as a film director, Nichols stepped into the breach to tell the real-life story of a politician who helped organize the Afghan mujahideen in fighting Soviet invaders. It had everything Nichols' films had come to be known for: Stellar talent, a story that dove into both politics and social issues, and a wicked sense of the absurd. But while it was Nichols' last time behind the camera, he wasn't done working. The documentary "Crescendo! The Power of Music," which he executive-produced, was released on Oct. 20.
Tributes for Nichols poured in on Twitter: