Alan Parker, the Oscar-nominated English filmmaker whose diverse line-up of credits include Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning, The Commitments, Evita, and Angela’s Ashes, has passed away following a long illness. He was 76 years old.
Born on February 14, 1944 in Islington, North London, Parker began his career as an advertisement copywriter and commercial director. He broke into feature filmmaking in 1976 with Bugsy Malone, a truly strange and memorable movie musical that parodies classic Hollywood gangster movies by utilizing a cast entirely composed of children. The film was a success, and Parker used it to try something completely different. 1978 saw the release of Midnight Express, an Oliver Stone-scripted drama about an American drug smuggler being held in a Turkish prison. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best director for Parker. Grim, brutal, and deeply upsetting, the film represented a trend that would become common across Parker’s career: a willingness and ability to pivot successfully from one genre to the next.
Those pivots came hard and fast: 1980’s Fame was a box office hit about performing arts students that inspired a TV spin-off; 1982’s Shoot the Moon was a divorce drama starring Diane Keaton and Albert Finney; 1982 also saw the release of Pink Floyd: The Wall, an unnerving and surreal adaptation of the classic rock album of the same name; 1984’s Birdy was a critically acclaimed drama starring Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine as Vietnam veterans who struggle upon returning home.
1987 saw the release of Angel Heart, perhaps one of Parker’s most underrated films. A mind-bending blend of noir and horror, the film features incredible performances from Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, along with an atmosphere that feels downright suffocating and hellish.
Arguably, Parker’s most famous film came in 1988 with Mississippi Burning, a drama about two FBI agents investigating the disappearance of civil rights activists in the American deep south in 1964. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and a second nomination for Parker himself.
Parker continued to work steadily through the ’90s, directing the joyous soul music-fueled The Commitments, Madonna’s lavish Evita, and the big screen adaptation of the acclaimed novel Angela’s Ashes. His final directorial credit was 2003’s The Life of David Gale, an unfortunately underwhelming end to an otherwise remarkable career.
In 2002, Parker was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2013, he received the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award, the highest honor available in the U.K. film industry.
Parker is survived by his wife, his five children, and his seven grandchildren.
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