Director Robert Altman Dies at 81

UPDATED 11/21/2006 at 01:45 PM EST Originally published 11/21/2006 at 11:55 AM EST

Director Robert Altman Dies at 81
Carlo Allegri/Getty
Robert Altman, who earlier this year received an honorary Academy Award for his lifetime's work as a director, has died in Los Angeles at age 81, his Sandcastle 5 Productions Company said Tuesday.

The director, who made such classics as M*A*S*H, Nashville and The Player, died Monday night, Joshua Astrachan, a producer at Sandcastle 5 Productions, tells The Associated Press.

The cause of death wasn't disclosed.

Altman was nominated for seven Academy Awards over his career, including Best Director for M*A*S*H in 1971, Nashville in 1976, The Player in 1993, Short Cuts in 1994 and Gosford Park in 2002 – but didn't win any of them.

He finally received an honorary Oscar this year. "No other filmmaker has gotten a better shake than I have," Altman said while accepting the award. "I'm very fortunate in my career. I've never had to direct a film I didn't choose or develop. My love for filmmaking has given me an entree to the world and to the human condition."

His most recent film was this year's A Prairie Home Companion.

In a lengthy interview with Entertainment Weekly, published in June, Altman discussed the issue of confronting mortality as an octogenarian. Asked how the life-and-death themes in Prairie resonated with him, he replied: "I'm aware of it. ... I do wake up and face it most mornings."

He then added a quote from a British World War I ditty: "Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?"

Altman was admired for his work on the screen and his approach to Hollywood off it.

He was known for creating largely improvised features, often with big ensemble casts and interconnected story lines. Many consider Nashville, a drama about the country-western music business and the election campaign of an unseen political candidate, to be his masterpiece.

He was also well known for refusing to play the studio game in Hollywood. All of the films he made in the past two decades were independently financed.

"Getting movies made was just as f---ed up (in the 70’s) as now," he told PEOPLE earlier this year. "It's always been the same struggle for me. But the bottom line is if you've got a dance card that they want, then they'll go for it. Otherwise it's tough."

As for how his age might affect his famously prolific movie-making, Altman told PEOPLE: "Does my age get in the way? Sure, it gets in the way, you know, every morning when I have breakfast it gets in the way. It's just part of the process now...It takes me a little longer now, that's all."

Still, he said: "As long as I am living that's what I'll be doing – making movies."

Altman and his wife, Kathryn, have two sons, Robert and Matthew. Altman also has a daughter, Christine, and two sons, Michael and Stephen, from two previous marriages.

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