Director Mike Nichols Spielberg
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Steven Spielberg is among those mourning his friend and fellow filmmaker Mike Nichols—the Oscar-winning director of The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Catch-22, Primary Colors, and Charlie Wilson’s War, who has died at the age of 83.

Spielberg, who has known Nichols for decades, released a statement calling Nichols “a friend, a muse, a mentor, one of America’s all time greatest film and stage directors, and one of the most generous people I have ever known.”

Actors usually end up sharing the screen with countless colleagues over a lifetime, but being a director is a solitary profession. One film typically has one filmmaker. But that community is just as tight-knit off set, especially since it is such a relatively small profession. Directors may not work together, but they all know each other.

The director of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Schindler’s List said seeing Nichols’ early work helped shape his own ideas about what filmmaking could be.

“For me, The Graduate was life altering—both as an experience at the movies as well as a master class about how to stage a scene,” Spielberg said. “Mike had a brilliant cinematic eye and uncanny hearing for keeping scenes ironic and real. Actors never gave him less than their personal best—and then Mike would get from them even more.”

Nichols, who broke into the entertainment business as part of a comedy team with Elaine May, was also a famous raconteur—and his talent with a live audience, whether in theater or simply a party, was one Spielberg said never left him. “In a room full of people, Mike was always the center of gravity,” Spielberg said. “This is a seismic loss.”