The creative force behind "The Deer Hunter" has been found dead in Beverly Hills. The legendary director saw a dramatic fall from grace following budget woes and production snafus that ruined his career.
Cimino was found dead Saturday by friends visiting his home, a Los Angeles County coroner told The Associated Press.
Cimino's masterpiece was 1978's "The Deer Hunter," the story of the Vietnam War's effect on veterans in rural Pennsylvania.
His first studio film, 1974's "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," was a heist picture with Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. It led to his landing "The Deer Hunter," which won five Academy Awards, including best picture and best director for Cimino. It helped lift the emerging-legend status of actors Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. Christopher Walken also won an Oscar for best supporting actor.
"Our work together is something I will always remember. He will be missed," De Niro said in a statement.
At the time, the film critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the most emotionally shattering films ever made."
Cimino's rocketing career cratered following the controversial release of "Heaven's Gate" in 1980. The budget-busting Western starring Kris Kristofferson and Walken was a critical and financial disaster and caused film studios to reassert creative control of productions.
But Cimino always stood by the movie as an artistic accomplishment, and a longer director's cut released in 2012 garnered critical acclaim after the film received a second look.
"I never second-guess myself," Cimino told Vanity Fair in a wide-ranging 2010 interview. "You can't look back. I don't believe in defeat. Everybody has bumps, but as Count Basie said, 'It's not how you handle the hills, it's how you handle the valleys.'"
Cimino became an eccentric figure even for Hollywood, living in solitude, constantly changing his appearance, claiming a myriad of allergies and avoiding the outdoors.
This film's initial budget of $11.5 million ballooned to $44 million
Born in New York City, Cimino graduated from Yale in 1961, and he earned a master's degree in painting from the University of New Haven in 1963.
The reclusive Cimino, with his signature dark glasses, worked only sporadically in the years that followed "Heaven's Gate," and with little success. His remaining films were 1985's "Year of the Dragon," 1987's "The Sicilian," 1990's "Desperate Hours" and 1996's "Sunchaser."
Cimino's death was first reported by Cannes film festival director Thierry Fremaux and later by The New York Times, which quoted the director's friend and former lawyer Eric Weissmann.
No cause of death was immediately given.
jar/tj (AP, AFP)