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British director Ken Russell dies aged 84

November 28, 2011

British film director Ken Russell with British model Twiggy during the filming of the movie “The Boy Friend”, at Elstree Studios, north of London, England, in this file photo dated Aug. 4, 1971. Ken Russell has died aged 84 it is announced Monday. -AP Photo

LONDON: British film director Ken Russell, who was nominated for an Oscar for “Women in Love” in 1970 during a prolific and eccentric career, has died at the age of 84, his son said on Monday.

The director also took charge of “Tommy”, the film version of The Who rock opera album, and the 1988 cult horror flick “Lair of the White Worm”, which gave an early role to Hugh Grant.

Russell is believed to have been ill for some time and died in hospital on Sunday.

Michael Winner, the director of the “Death Wish” movies who first met Russell in the mid-1960s, said he was a “one-off”.

“He was so innovative. He was so daring. He had a unique style and ploughed a unique furrow,” Winner told BBC television.

“He was very jovial when you met him privately. He wasn't the sort of mad sadist which you might think from seeing some of the movies.

“He obviously had this duplicity of mind. So he pushed the barriers completely, got away with it sometimes and didn't get away with it at other times.”

Once considered an enfant terrible of the British movie world, Russell started his career in television before making his name as a director with a sexually graphic adaptation of D H Lawrence's “Women in Love”.

The late actor Oliver Reed, who wrestled naked with Alan Bates in the film, said that when he worked with Russell on the movie, the director was “starting to go crazy”.

Reed said at the time: “Before that he was a sane, likeable TV director. Now he's an insane, likeable film director.”

Russell's 1971 film “The Devils”, starring Vanessa Redgrave, landed him in hot water after he initially included a scene featuring naked nuns.

As Winner recalled: “What the censor took out of 'The Devils' was almost as long as the rest of the movie.”

In 2007, Russell appeared in the British TV version of “Celebrity Big Brother”, although he stormed out after a few days following a disagreement with fellow contestant Jade Goody.

Born in the port of Southampton in southeast England, Russell's love of film started early when he was given a film projector at the age of ten.

His first job was as a merchant seaman, but he switched career radically to train at a dance school before taking up fashion photography and also started to make black and white films.

That led to him directing the groundbreaking BBC television arts programme “Monitor” before he moved into film.

As he hit his career peak in the 1970s, he directed a succession of flamboyant films often focusing on his passion for music, including “The Music Lovers”, “Savage Messiah”, “Mahler”, “Lisztomania” and “Valentino”.

In the 1980s, he briefly branched out into pop music videos, making “Nikita” for Elton John.