Director Mike Nichols, one of the few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award, died Wednesday evening, according to a note from ABC News’ president to its staff.
Nichols, 83, who directed “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “The Graduate,” was the husband of former “ABC World News” anchor Diane Sawyer.
Born Michael Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin in 1931, Nichols got his start as a stage performer, and in the 1950s co-founded the Chicago-based comedy troupe Second City, which honed comedians including John Belushi and Bill Murray.
As recounted in the book “Faces of America,” a young Nichols arrived in the United States knowing only two phrases: “I don’t speak English” and “Please, don’t kiss me.” The family changed its last name to Nichols after settling in New York City, where the family patriarch established a medical practice.
Nichols attended college in Chicago and later headed back to New York City, where he studied acting under famed teacher Lee Strasberg. He returned to Chicago, where he started up a comedy troupe and met Elaine May.
The pair would go on to form a partnership that would later take Broadway by storm. Nichols said he took to the stage.
“I liked doing the stand-up,” Nichols told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “I only stopped because Elaine wanted to stop. I’ve never understood it. I thought: “Why? It’s not a very long show. It doesn’t cost us anything emotionally.'”
He moved behind the scenes and directed Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley in “Barefoot in the Park,” which won him his first Tony in 1964. More acclaim would follow for his work on the big screen, with films like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” “Silkwood” and “The Graduate,” for which he won an Academy Award for best director in 1967.
His last film as director was 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
“No one was more passionate about his craft than Mike,” James Goldston, president of ABC News, said in a note to the staff. “He had recently been immersed in a new project for HBO to adapt ‘Master Class,’ Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning play about opera legend Maria Callas. The project reunited him with Meryl Streep, one of his most frequent collaborators.”
Nichols occupied that rare air in the industry of those who have won the EGOT — an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. In 2012 he earned his record sixth Tony for best direction of a play for “Death of a Salesmen.”
He met Sawyer later in life (he was 54 at the time) and she became his fourth wife. He told THR that he first spotted the then-“60 Minutes” correspondent on a flight and later struck up a conversation with her.
“I found her and said, ‘You’re my hero.’ And she said: ‘No, you’re my hero. Do you ever have lunch?’ She wanted to interview me for ’60 Minutes.’ I pretended that I was up for it, and we had about 14 lunches.”
The couple was married for 26 years. In addition to Sawyer, Nichols is survived by his three children — Daisy, Max and Jenny — and four grandchildren.