Billy Wilder, the European-born Oscar-winning writer and director praised for his dark wit and carefully constructed stories, died of pneumonia at his Beverly Hills home on Wednesday evening, Variety reports.
Wilder’s indelible imagery was alternately exuberant and cynical. He is credited in part with masterminding the wholesome sex appeal of Marilyn Monroe, having created the now-iconic image of the blonde bombshell in ”The Seven Year Itch,” standing over a subway grate giggling as her skirt billows around her.
But the director was also fluent in the language of the darkest thrillers and domestic dramas. In ”Sunset Boulevard,” his vicious indictment of the film industry, Wilder observed the seemingly-pristine landscapes of Hollywood’s richest, plopping a floating corpse into a backyard pool, exposing the decay beneath the veneer of excess.
His filmography ricochets between genres. For every ”Double Indemnity,” there is a ”Some Like It Hot.” Other films include ”The Lost Weekend” (one of the first Hollywood pictures to address alcoholism), ”Stalag 17” (a postwar drama critical of U.S. foreign policy), and the Jack Lemmon-Shirley MacLaine romantic dramedy ”The Apartment.”
Wilder received six Oscars in his career, including the Irving Thalberg Award for lifetime achievement in 1988. Three years later, upon accepting the Preston Sturges Award from The Writers Guild and Directors Guild, Wilder talked about wearing both hats, betraying his first love of screenwriting. ”I became a director because I wanted to get the utmost of the script on the screen,” he said. In other words, he thought other directors were too inept to recreate his vision.
Wilder was well known in Hollywood for his verbal roughhousing. He is reported to have told one actor: ”You have Van Gogh’s ear for music.” And he courted his wife of 53 years with these words: ”I’d worship the ground you walk on if you lived in a better neighborhood.”
He is survived by that lifelong wife, Audrey, and a daughter (from his first marriage to Judith Copicus Iribe), Victoria.