New Hollywood director Bob Rafelson has died at the age of 89
Bob Rafelson, an influential figure in the New Hollywood era of the 1970s who was nominated for two Oscars for “Five Easy Pieces,” has died. He was 89 years old.
Rafelson died Saturday night at his home in Aspen, surrounded by his family, said his wife, Gabrielle Torek Rafelson.
Rafelson was responsible for co-creating the fictional pop music group and television series “The Monkeys” with the late Burt Schneider, which earned him a 1967 Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series.
But he is perhaps best known for his work during the New Hollywood era, in which the classical studio system gave way to rebellious young voices and new filmmaking styles and helped such talents as Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford. Coppola and Steven Spielberg.
Rafelson directed and co-wrote “Five Easy Pieces,” about a high-class pianist longing for a more blue-collar life, and “The King of Marvin Gardens,” about a late-night radio talk show host. Both films starred Jack Nicholson and explored the theme of the American Dream Gone Highwire. “Five Easy Pieces” earned Rafelson two Oscar nominations in 1971, for best picture and screenplay.
He produced major new Hollywood classics including Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” and Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider”.
Coppola once called him “one of the most important cinematic artists of his time”, and his fans include Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson.
Rafelson was born in New York City and was a distant relative of “The Jazz Singer” screenwriter Samson Rafelson, who he said took an interest in his work. At Dartmouth he also befriended noted screenwriter Buck Henry.
While serving in the US Army in Japan, he became interested in Japanese cinema and the films of Yasujiro Ozu, especially “Tokyo Story”.
After college, Rafelson married his high school sweetheart, who would work as a production designer for his films and others. He started in the entertainment business in television, writing for shows like “The Witness” and “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
But “The Monkeys” was his first major success. The Monkees, an idea predated the Beatles and the musical comedy “A Hard Day’s Night,” but became a hit when it premiered on NBC in 1966. It lasted two years and allowed Rafelson to strike. Self directed.
The Monkees also appeared in his feature directorial debut, “Head,” which would be the first of many collaborations with Nicholson.
“I may have thought I started his career,” Nicholson told Esquire in 2019, “but I think he started mine.”
Rafelson was proud of a 1990 film he directed, “Mountains of the Moon,” a biographical film that told the story of two explorers, Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speake, as they discovered the source of the Nile, his wife said.
Rafelson’s own adventures in places like Morocco, India, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Guatemala influenced his work, she said.
“He loved nothing more than to disappear into strange pockets of the world,” Torek Rafelson said.
Rafelson left Hollywood two decades ago to focus on raising two children with Torek Rafelson, Ethan and Harper, in Aspen. He and his first wife, Toby Rafelson, had two children, Peter and Julie, who died in 1973 when she was 10 years old.