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Michael Apted, director of ‘Up’ documentary series, dead at 79

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Michael Apted, the acclaimed British director of the “Up” documentaries series and films as diverse as the Loretta Lynn biopic “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and the James Bond film “The World Is Not Enough,” has died. He was 79.

A representative for the Directors Guild of America said his family informed the organization that he passed Thursday night. No cause was given.

An incredibly prolific director, Apted’s legacy is perhaps most defined by the nine “Up” films, which followed the lives of 14 economically diverse British children from age 7 to 63. The project started in 1964 with “Seven Up!” the brainchild of the late Canadian filmmaker Paul Almond. Apted served as a researcher on the first and seven years later, took over as director and continued checking in with the subjects every seven years. The ambitious project earned him an Institutional Peabody Award in 2012 and also had the honor of being satirized by “The Simpsons” in a 2007 episode. The last film, “63 Up,” came out in 2019.

“The series was an attempt to do a long view of English society,” Apted told Slant Magazine in 2019. “The class system needed a kick up the backside.”

Apted was born in Aylesbury in 1941. Scholarships allowed him to study at Cambridge, where he counted John Cleese among his friends. He started in media with an apprenticeship at Granada Television, working on productions such as “Coronation Street.”

He made his feature debut in 1972 on “The Triple Echo” with Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson. In 1980, he came to the U.S. to direct “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” a commercial and critical success which earned Sissy Spacek a best actress Oscar. Apted ended up moving to California after that and worked steadily in film and television for the next 40 years.

Michael Apted is especially remembered for the ongoing "Up" documentary series.
Michael Apted is especially remembered for the ongoing “Up” documentary series.
Getty Images

Although Apted himself was never nominated for an Oscar, his films would garner two more acting nominations: Sigourney Weaver for her portrayal of Dian Fossey in “Gorillas in the Mist” and Jodie Foster for “Nell.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tweeted Friday that, “He will be missed.” Apted was actively involved in his own industry, having served as an Academy governor and as president of the DGA from 2003 to 2009.

He directed a wide variety of projects and stars including John Belushi in “Continental Divide,” William Hurt in “Gorky Park,” Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman in “Extreme Measures” and Jennifer Lopez in “Enough.” In 1999, he directed the third Pierce Brosnan James Bond film, “The World Is Not Enough,” More recently, he worked on the Showtime series “Masters of Sex.”

Director Michael Apted watches over star Pierce Brosnan in 1999 on the set of the James Bond movie "The World Is Not Enough."
Director Michael Apted watches over star Pierce Brosnan in 1999 on the set of the James Bond movie “The World Is Not Enough.”
Everett Collection

Taylor Hackford, who succeeded Apted at the DGA said in a statement that he 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.”

Steven Soderbergh, who also served alongside Apted at the DGA, added that he, “spent countless hours literally two feet from Michael and loved every minute of it. Apart from his own remarkable body of work, what he gave to the DGA can’t be measured; he put his entire BEING into the Guild and inspired us all to follow his example.”

Apted wasn’t looking to slow down either. He told Slant Magazine that he would be keen to do a “70 Up.”

“I’d like to go on for as long as I am above ground,” he said. “I’d like it to continue.”

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