By Maureen Lee Lenker
January 08, 2021 at 07:12 PM EST
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Credit: Everett Collection

Michael Apted, the British filmmaker known for directing the long-running Up documentary series and Oscar-nominated features including Coal Miner's Daughter and Gorillas in the Mist, has died at 79.

His agency confirmed his death to EW, but no additional information was available.

Apted first rose to prominence for his work on the groundbreaking Up films, which followed the lives of 14 Brits from different class backgrounds over the course of 56 years, in seven-year increments. Apted was a researcher on the first installment, 1964's Seven Up, and helmed the rest, concluding with 63 Up in 2019.

He also directed three performers to Oscar nominations for Best Actress: Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter, Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist, and Jodie Foster in Nell. Spacek won the award, for her portrayal of country singer Loretta Lynn.

Apted's career spanned genres, encompassing documentaries, biopics, and big-budget entertainments, the latter including the 1999 James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough and the 2021 Disney franchise film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Apted also served as president of the Directors Guild of America from 2003 to 2009. "Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of esteemed director, longtime DGA leader and my friend Michael Apted," DGA president Thomas Schlamme said in a statement. "His legacy will be forever woven into the fabric of cinema and our Guild. A fearless visionary as a director and unparalleled Guild leader, Michael saw the trajectory of things when others didn't, and we were all the beneficiaries of his wisdom and lifelong dedication."

Taylor Hackford, who succeeded Apted as DGA president, also issued a statement, saying, "Michael Apted was the definition of 'mensch' — like the wonderful director he was, you could always count on him to deliver a clear and well thought out point-of-view, usually leavened with a dollop of dry wit.  He was my trusted colleague at the DGA for over 30 years, and I was privileged to follow him as President of our great organization — his were huge shoes to fill.  I will miss him dearly."

Michael Apted was born Feb. 10, 1941, in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. He went on to study law and history at Downing College, Cambridge.

He began his career in entertainment at Britain's Granada Television in Manchester, as a researcher trainee. It was there that he became directly involved in the program that would become Seven Up, which began as a profile for the network's current affairs series World in Action.

While being integral to the genesis of the series, which would go on to win a Peabody Award, Apted also made his directorial debut on World in Action. His fiction debut came via another famous Granada property, the long-running soap opera Coronation Street.

Apted worked steadily in British television, directing episodes of ITV Sunday Night Theatre and ITV Playhouse, eventually landing a gig directing Laurence Olivier in a filmed stage play of Harold Pinter's The Collection.

He made his feature directorial debut on 1972's The Triple Echo, starring Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed. He would go on to direct features including The Squeeze, Agatha, Stardust, Continental Divide, Gorky Park, Class Action, Extreme Measures, Enough, Chasing Mavericks, and Unlocked.

His documentary credits included Bring on the Night, The Long Way Home, Inspirations, Incident at Oglala (which inspired his fictional film Thunderheart), Me & Isaac Newton, The Fifa 2006 World Cup Film: The Grand Finale, The Power of the Game, and Bending the Light.

In recent years, Apted returned more earnestly to his roots in television, helming episodes of Rome, Ray Donovan, Bloodline, and Masters of Sex.

In 2013, Apted received the DGA's Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award, which recognizes extraordinary service to the guild and its membership. He also received a Career Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association in 1999.

Apted is survived by his third wife, Paige Simpson, and his children Jim, John, and Tania.

Apted was thrice married, the first time to Jo Apted, the second time to screenwriter Dana Stevens. One of his sons by Jo Apted, sound editor Paul Apted, died from colon cancer in 2014.

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