Sidney Lumet, whose career behind the camera encompassed classics stretching from his 1957 Best Picture nominee 12 Angry Men to the acclaimed 2007 drama Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, has died at age 86, according to the New York Times, citing his stepdaughter. The cause was lymphoma.
Lumet was the quintessential actor’s director. Over the course of his brilliant 60-year career, the New York filmmaker behind some of the most energetic, innovative, and flat-out greatest films of the 1960s and ‘70s, snagged 18 Academy Award nominations for his leading men and women, including Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express, and Paul Newman in The Verdict. Still, he was often overlooked on the other side of the camera, never winning a statuette himself besides the honorary Oscar he was given in 2005.
Lumet was born in Philadelphia in 1924. Show business was in his blood — his father was an actor and his mother was a dancer — and he quickly followed their lead into the family business, making his acting debut at age 4 in the Yiddish theater in New York. In his 20s, after a string of promising parts on stage and screen, he splintered off from Lee Strasberg’s famous Actor’s Studio in frustration and started his own Method-oriented acting troupe that included future stars Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach. But soon, Lumet realized that his future laid behind the camera not in front of it.
After breaking in to the profession by directing live television in the early ‘50s like his peers Robert Altman and John Frankenheimer, Lumet made his feature directing debut with 1957’s12 Angry Men, a tense and claustrophobic drama set in a jury room that earned a Best Picture nomination as well as a Best Director nod for Lumet. It was to be the first of many dates with Oscar, even though Lumet always had mixed feelings about the honor. “It’s a great rat f—,” Lumet told EW in 2008. “I never thought I was going to win and so far I haven’t! And yet, when you get into the limo, on the ride over you’ve somehow convinced yourself that you have a chance.”