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Moonstruck and In the Heat of the Night director Norman Jewison dies aged 97

Norman Jewison with his wife Lynne St. David  (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Norman Jewison with his wife Lynne St. David (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Acclaimed Hollywood director Norman Jewison has died at the age of 97.

Canadian-born Jewison’s films ranged from Moonstruck starring singer and actress Cher to social dramas such as the Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night.

Three-time Oscar nominee Jewison, who in 1999 received a lifetime achievement Academy Award, died “peacefully” on Saturday, according to publicist Jeff Sanderson. Additional details were not immediately available.

Throughout his long career, Jewison combined light entertainment with topical films that appealed to him on a deeply personal level.

He drew upon his experiences hitchhiking through the American South for 1967’s In the Heat of the Night starring Rod Steiger as a white racist small-town sheriff and Sidney Poitier as a black detective from Philadelphia trying to help solve a murder and eventually forming a working relationship with the hostile local lawman.

“Every time a film deals with racism, many Americans feel uncomfortable,” he wrote in his autobiography This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me.

“Yet it has to be confronted. We have to deal with prejudice and injustice or we will never understand what is good and evil, right and wrong; we need to feel how ‘the other’ feels.”

He received two other Oscar nominations for Fiddler on the Roof and Moonstruck, the beloved romantic comedy for which Cher won a best actress Academy Award.

He also worked on such notable films as the Cold War spoof The Russian Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, the Steve McQueen thriller The Thomas Crown Affair and a pair of movies featuring Denzel Washington: the racial drama A Soldier’s Story and The Hurricane, starring Washington as wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

Cher and Norman Jewison in Los Angeles in January 2010 (REUTERS)
Cher and Norman Jewison in Los Angeles in January 2010 (REUTERS)

A third project with Washington never made it to production. In the early 1990s, Jewison was set to direct a biography of Malcolm X, but backed out amid protests from Spike Lee and others that a white director shouldn’t make the film. Lee ended up directing.

Jewison and his wife Margaret Ann Dixon, nicknamed Dixie, had three children, sons Kevin and Michael and daughter Jennifer Ann, who became an actress and appeared in the Jewison films Agnes of God and Best Friends.

The Jewisons were married 51 years, until her death in 2004. He married Lynne St. David in 2010.

“I never really became as much a part of the establishment as I wanted to be,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011.

“I wanted to be accepted. I wanted people to say ‘that was a great picture.’ I mean I have a big ego like anyone else. I’m no shrinking violet. But I never felt totally accepted — but maybe that’s good.”