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Academy-recognized actor/director Paul Mazursky dead at 84

Paul Mazursky used social change in the ’60s and ’70s as subject matter for his comical and touching films.

Five-time Academy Award nominee Paul Mazursky passed away on Monday at the age of 84, according to The New York Times.

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The actor/director died of pulmonary cardiac arrest at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, family spokeswoman Nancy Willen reported.

Mazursky was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 25, 1930, and resided in Beverly Hills, California, at the time of his death. He was best known for directing films such as 1969’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and 1986’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills, in which he acted as well. His work reflected a changing world as society evolved from the conservative 1950s and people began to explore their own sexuality, mental health and the way interpersonal relationships worked.

The director’s sometimes quirky films were not always critically acclaimed and Mazursky often used the experiences as fodder for new movies. After the commercial bomb of Alex in Wonderland in 1970, he retreated to Italy for several months before returning to the U.S. He told People he wrote a scene about “a guy sitting in a café in Italy trying to figure out what the hell he is doing there.” The scene later turned into the script for 1973’s Blume in Love.

Though Mazursky gained most of his clout taking on social issues of the ’60s and ’70s, his career remained strong through the millennium and he gained more recognition through playing the character of Norm on Curb Your Enthusiasm and appearing on The Sopranos and Once and Again.

“By the time I was 12, I was already dreaming of being an actor,” Mazursky told People magazine in 1986, via the Los Angeles Times. “I’d go into the bathroom in our house, the only place you could be alone, and do imitations of Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart.”

Above all, Mazursky seemed to value one thing: humor. “I find it impossible to spend time with someone who doesn’t have a real sense of humor,” he revealed in People. “Humor is not just a way of looking at life. It’s the way you experience things. Nobody lives life free of pain, but you can get past the pain with humor. It’s what separates me from some very nice people who simply don’t get the joke.”

Mazursky is survived by his wife of 60 years, Betsy, their daughter Jill Mazursky, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He was preceded in death by another daughter, Meg, who died of cancer in 2009.

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