Oscar-Winning Czech Director Miloš Forman Dies at 86

Legendary Czech director and two-time Oscar-winner Miloš Forman has passed away at the age of 86 yesterday, his wife Martina informed the local press. 

The director died unexpectedly at his home in Connecticut following a short illness.

“His departure was calm and he was surrounded all the time by his family and his closest friends,” Mrs. Forman added. 

Born Jan Tomáš Forman in Čáslav on February 18, 1932, Forman studied filmmaking at Prague’s FAMU film academy before becoming an integral part of the Czech New Wave during the 1960s. 

His film Black Peter (Černý Petr) won the top prize at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1964, while subsequent features Loves of a Blonde (Lásky jedné plavovlásky) and The Fireman’s Ball (Hoří, má panenko) were both nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. 

The director was among a small group of Czech filmmakers who fled Czechoslovakia after events of 1968, which included friends and collaborators like cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček and writer-director Ivan Passer. Ondříček would shoot many of director’s subsequent films in the United States. 

It was in Hollywood that Forman achieved his greatest successes. 

After the success of the low budget culture clash comedy Taking Off, which won the Grand Prix at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, Forman was tapped by producer Michael Douglas to direct an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s bestselling novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The 1975 feature would go on to win five Oscars including one for Forman for Best Director. It remains one of only three films to win the top five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress) alongside 1934’s It Happened One Night and 1990’s The Silence of the Lambs

Forman’s next pictures in Hollywood included a big-screen version of the Broadway musical Hair in 1979 and an underappreciated adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime in 1981. 

In 1984, Forman would return to Prague – still under communist rule – with a Hollywood cast and crew to film Amadeus, an adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s acclaimed play about Wolfgang Mozart. It was the first major U.S. production to shoot in the Czech capital, and Forman employed top local talent and some old friends to help make the film. 

Amadeus would go on to win eight Academy Awards, including Forman’s second Oscar for Best Director. 

Subsequent features in Hollywood included Valmont, a 1989 adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The People vs. Larry Flynt, starring Woody Harrelson as the Hustler founder, Man on the Moon, starring Jim Carrey as comedian Andy Kaufman, and Goya’s Ghosts, an underrated drama about the Spanish painter starring Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman. 

In the late 2000s, Forman returned to Prague to direct the stage play A Walk Worthwhile at the National Theatre with his son Petr Forman. A filmed version of the play premiered at the 2009 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Lead photo: Forman in 2010 via Wikimedia / Zff2012


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

One Response

  1. I didn’t even know he was sick 🙁

    Norm MacDonald spoke very highly of Milos and his experience working on Man in the Moon. I think he was honored to worked in one of those fancy movies that win awards. I know he was a big fan of The People vs. Larry Flynt as well. RIP

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