Born on November 6, 1931, Mike Nichols immigrated to the United States from Germany with his family at the age of 7. Nichols made his Broadway debut in 1964 with Barefoot in the Park, which earned him his first Tony Award. His early films include Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967), for which he received an Academy Award for best director. In June 2012, Nichols accepted his sixth Tony Award (best director of a play) for his work on the revival of Death of a Salesman, a play originally written by Arthur Miller. Nichols died of cardiac arrest on November 19, 2014 at the age of 83.
Early Life and Career
Mike Nichols was born Michael Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, Germany, on November 6, 1931. The son of Jewish parents, he immigrated to the United States in 1938 to escape from Nazi Germany. He was only 7 years old when he left Germany with his younger brother, Robert. The brothers met up with their father, Paul, in America, and their mother, Brigitte, was able to reunite with them two years later.
According to Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s book Faces of America, Nichols only knew two sentences in English before arriving in America: "I don't speak English" and "Please, don't kiss me." The family settled in New York City, where Nichols's father soon established a medical practice. His father also changed the family's last name to Nichols after reaching their new home.
After his father's death, Nichols and his family struggled financially. He worked to support himself through his college years at the University of Chicago, after which time he studied acting under Lee Strasberg in New York City. Nichols then made his way back to Chicago, where he started up a comedy troupe, through which he met future performance partner Elaine May. The pair became a successful duo in the late 1950s. A decade later, they took their act to Broadway, where they won over critics and audiences alike.
Moving behind the scenes, Mike Nichols made his Broadway directing debut with Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park, starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley, for which he earned his first Tony Award (1964). He continued his winning streak on the Great White Way, picking up another Tony (best direction of a play) for his work on both Luv and The Odd Couple, which featured Art Carney and Walter Matthau, in 1965.
Nichols's early career also flourished on the big screen. His first film as a director was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He then won an Academy Award for best director in 1967 for The Graduate, which starred Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman.
Nichols continued to find success on both the stage and screen in the 1970s and '80s, picking up a Tony for directing in 1972 for Neil Simon's Prisoner of Second Avenue, and receiving the same honor five years later for the popular musical Annie. He also earned Oscar nominations for directing the Meryl Streep drama Silkwood (1983) and the Harrison Ford-Melanie Griffith comedy Working Girl.
Nichols continued to have a diverse career, handling comedy, drama and even musicals with tremendous skill, in his later years. He directed and produced Closer (2004), a dark film at sex and relationships starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Natalie Portman. On Broadway, Nichols won a Tony in 2005 for his work on the musical Spamalot, based on the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail. Two years later, he brought the political drama Charlie Wilson's War, starring Tom Hanks, to the big screen.
In June 2012, Nichols accepted his sixth Tony (best director of a play) for his work on the Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman—a play originally written by Arthur Miller in 1949—starring acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Nichols continued to pursue his passion for Broadway the following year, directing the Harold Pinter play Betrayal, which starred real-life couple Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig. In 2014, Nichols was involved in adapting Master Class, Terence McNally's Tony Award-winning play about opera legend Maria Callas, for HBO. Meryl Streep was in talks to star in the project.
Personal Life & Death
Mike Nichols married ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer in April 1988. He was previously married to Patricia Scott (1957-60), Margo Callas (1963-74) and Annabel Davis-Goff (1975-86), and had three children: Daisy (born in 1964), Max (born in 1974) and Jenny (born in 1977). Nichols died after suffering cardiac arrest at his home on November 19, 2014. He was 83.
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