When Mike Nichols died yesterday at the age of 83, he left behind an immense legacy of work that will live forever, from his comedy routines with Elaine May to films like The Graduate and plays like The Odd Couple. But if the last 24 hours have proven anything, it’s that his true genius lay in his relationships with other people and his ability to make those around him feel special and alive. During his long career, Nichols worked with and mentored the most talented writers and actors of multiple generations, and the outpouring of genuine sadness and fond recollections has been truly stirring.
Emma Thompson worked with Nichols on several projects, including Primary Colors, Angels in America, Wit, and The Remains of the Day, which he produced. Her tribute to Nichols, below, captures more than just an artist, but a man who lived a wonderful life and shared it generously.
John Lahr once said that Mike was “fundamentally inconsolable” and that in response, Mike had said, “Well, we get a lot done.”
The ironic thing about that is that he was absolutely brilliant at consoling everyone else. I am not sure what he’d say about today. Something funny, for sure, something that would improve our posture.
Working with him was like going to an eclectic, unorthodox, and highly original university. We would all get to wander about in the corridors and high ceilings of his mind—for free, mind you—each making different discoveries according to our tastes and aptitudes. Then, later, we would find that those discoveries applied to the rest of our lives.
It was also like being at some party where the drinks were always excellent and everyone who ever said anything worth hearing was either present or being accurately quoted.
This was because Mike had cast them or met them or worked with them in the past or got drunk with them or perhaps briefly lived with them.
I think he once snogged Jackie Onassis in an elevator.
As for the laughing, there was no end to it. There were periods of hilarity that I am surprised I survived, let alone him.
He laughed and cried in equal measure, to excess and always with good reason.
He loved with unparalleled generosity and without reservation.
His gifts to those of us lucky enough to have known him can never be measured. It was a lifting up. He lifted us all up.
That’s the best way I can describe it.