By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated December 16, 2010 at 09:50 PM EST

Image Credit: Everett CollectionTowards the end of his long, prolific career, Blake Edwards films became so wrenchingly autobiographical — like That’s Life, about a man suffering a mid-life crisis — that the director began sharing writing credit with his Hollywood analyst. But, of course, what Edwards, who died Wednesday evening at his home in Santa Monica at age 88, will most be remembered for are his comedies. Nobody had a lighter touch with sex farces (movies like 1979’s 10, or 1982’s Victor Victoria, both of which starred his second wife, now widow, Julie Andrews) or was more at home filming physical comedy (especially when shooting the six Pink Panther films he made with Peter Sellers from 1963 to 1982). Edwards was never much of a critical darling, but he ultimately did receive Hollywood’s highest honor: In 2004, he was awarded an Academy Award for his lifetime achievements in film.

Edwards began his career as a scriptwriter for radio. In fact, one of his early breaks was writing dialogue for Orson Welles’ famous 1938 production of War of the Worlds. In the 1950s, he moved on to television writing, tapping out detective scripts for shows like Peter Gunn. He began directing in the 1950s, as well, making films like Operation Petticoat, but his first big-screen success came with 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, an adaptation of Truman Capote’s bestseller starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. Edwards followed that up with 1962’s Days of Wine and Roses, a groundbreaking drama about alcoholism starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. But it was 1963’s The Pink Panther, with Sellers playing the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, that would come to define Edwards’ career. No matter how successful some of his other films ended up being — including the one featuring Bo Derek running slow-mo on a beach in Mexico — the Panther movies always returned. Even after Sellers died in 1980, Edwards continued to churn out sequels, the last being Son of the Pink Panther in 1993.

Audiences turned away from Edwards at the end — movies like Switch and Sunset came and went without much notice — but now that he’s gone, this director’s career is bound to be re-examined. Film history will undoubtedly be kind.

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