Michael Winner dies, aged 77

Film director and restaurant critic Michael Winner has died aged 77, his wife Geraldine has said.

Mr Winner, who made more than 30 films including the blockbuster 'Death Wish' series, had been ill for some time and died at his home in Kensington, London, where he was being nursed by his wife.

Paying tribute to her husband Mrs Winner, a former dancer whom he married two years ago, said in a statement: "Michael was a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous. A light has gone out in my life."

In a film career which spanned more than 50 years, he worked with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, including Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum and Faye Dunaway.

He later reinvented himself as a restaurant critic, writing about food in his typically flamboyant style in his 'Winner's Dinners' column for the Sunday Times.

Winner, whose appearance in adverts for motor insurance coined the catchphrase "Calm down dear, it's only a commercial", also founded and funded the Police Memorial Trust following the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.

Winner had an early introduction to showbusiness - by the age of 14 he was writing a column for local newspapers interviewing stars from Louis Armstrong to Laurence Olivier.

His time as editor of the Cambridge University newspaper, Varsity, saw him lead a team that included Michael Frayn and Jonathan Miller, before stints as a film critic on Fleet Street.

He got his break in 1956 when he started making documentaries and short films and went on to make dozens of films including an early role for David Hemmings alongside Diana Dors in the 1963 film West 11.

Other notable films included a remake of 'The Big Sleep', with Robert Mitchum as private eye Philip Marlowe, and 'Hannibal Brooks', which starred Oliver Reed as a prisoner-of-war who makes a bid for freedom with an elephant from a German zoo.

But he is probably best known for the 1974 film 'Death Wish', which starred Charles Bronson as a mild-mannered architect who becomes a violent vigilante after his family is attacked in New York.

Actor John Cleese paid tribute to his friend.

“I have just heard the very sad news about Michael. He was the dearest, kindest, funniest and most generous of friends. I shall miss him terribly,” he said in a statement.

Restaurant critic Jay Rayner wrote on Twitter: “RIP Michael Winner. He could be absurd and made some lousy films. But he could also be a rather lovely man. Winner made life more interesting.”

TV mogul Simon Cowell also paid tribute.

“I’m very sad to hear about Michael passing away. He’s become a very good friend over the years and someone whose company I have always really enjoyed,” he said in a statement.

“Laughter was never far away when Michael was around and he is someone who the more I got to know, the fonder I got of him. I am sure there are a lot of other people who, like me, will really miss him.”

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