Tommy director Ken Russell dead at 84

Ken Russell was one of the biggest cult film directors of the 1970s. His films tested our senses and made the impossible, possible. But unfortunately, after 52 years in the business, Russell died in his sleep at the age of 84.

Monday morning it was announced that controversial film director Ken Russell had died. The U.K. native was known for producing movies that pushed the envelope when it came to sex and music. One of his most famous works, 1969’s Women in Love, features an iconic scene where Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestle each other — nude.

Director Ken Russell

Russell was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England in 1927. He spent his early life serving in the Royal Air Force before embarking on a career in film and television. His most critically accepted piece was the aforementioned Women in Love. Despite its erotic content, it won an Academy Award for Best Actress (Glenda Jackson) and earned three nominations, including Best Director.

Russell’s other famous (and most commercial) work was the rock opera Tommy. It’s a visual feast based on music from The Who and features appearances by Tina Turner, Elton John and Eric Clapton. Even though most of his films were disregarded by mainstream critics as cheap or campy, Russell always stayed true to his vision.

Shortly after learning of his death, Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese told Yahoo Movies UK that Russell was a “fearless” director. “His films were revelations. They opened a new way of telling stories,” said Scorsese. “[Russell] tried everything. He didn’t care.”

That’s a sentiment echoed my model and actress Twiggy, who worked with Russell on 1971’s The Boy Friend. She revealed that many of Hollywood’s most successful directors (including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) “say that as a kid they would watch Ken Russell movies.” She continued, “I don’t think he got the attention he deserved.”

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