Legendary Bob Rafelson, New Hollywood Era Director, Dies At 89

Two Oscar nominations for his work on “Five Easy Pieces” made Bob Rafelson a major player in the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s. He was 89.

In Aspen, where he had lived for many years, Rafelson passed away. Gabrielle Taurek Rafelson, his wife, shared that he passed away peacefully on Saturday night surrounded by loved ones.

In 1967, Rafelson received an Emmy for creating the best comedy series for his work with the late Bert Schneider on fictional pop music.

Legendary Bob Rafelson, New Hollywood Era Director, Dies At 89
Legendary Bob Rafelson, New Hollywood Era Director, Dies At 89

Rafelson directed and co-wrote “The King of Marvin Gardens,” about a melancholy late-night radio talk show host, and “Five Easy Pieces,” about a privileged pianist who longs for a working-class existence.

Both featured Jack Nicholson and dealt with variations on the topic of the American dream gone awry. Rafelson was nominated for best picture and best screenplay for his work on “Five Easy Pieces” in 1971.

Aside from directing, he produced such New Hollywood masterpieces as Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” and Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider.” group and TV series The Monkees.

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His most notable films were made during the New Hollywood period, which saw the traditional Hollywood studio system give way to a wave of innovative young directors like Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg.

Rafelson helmed and co-wrote “The King of Marvin Gardens,” about a melancholy late-night radio talk show host, and “Five Easy Pieces,” about a privileged pianist who longs for a working-class existence. Both movies featured Jack Nicholson and dealt with the deterioration of the American dream. In 1971, “Five Easy Pieces” earned Rafelson two Oscar nominations: best film and best screenplay.

Furthermore, he produced such New Hollywood masterpieces as Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” and Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider.”

Fans of his work include Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, and Coppola has dubbed him “one of the most important cinematic artists of his era.”

Rafelson, a native New Yorker, claims that the writer of “The Jazz Singer,” Samson Raphaelson, is a distant relative who shows interest in his work. At Dartmouth, he also met and became close with fellow screenwriter and Hollywood icon Buck Henry.

While stationed in Japan with the United States Army, he became fascinated with Japanese cinema and the works of Yasujiro Ozu, particularly “Tokyo Story.”

Rafelson married his high school love after finishing college, and she went on to be a successful career in the film industry as a production designer. Television, including shows like “The Witness” and “The Greatest Show on Earth,” was where he first got his start in the entertainment industry.

Aside from “The Monkees,” though, his first major breakthrough was also due to that group. He claimed that the concept for The Monkees came before both The Beatles and the musical comedy “A Hard Day’s Night,” yet the show still managed to capture the spirit of its day when it debuted on NBC in 1966. For two years, Rafelson had the chance to direct his own show.

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He made his directorial debut with the feature film “Head,” which included the Monkees and would be the first of many successful partnerships with Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson told Esquire in 2019 that he “may have felt I launched his career,” but that he “thinks he started my career.”

Rafelson’s wife remarked that he was most pleased with “Mountains of the Moon,” a biopic he directed in 1990 about two explorers, Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, who set out to discover the Nile’s origin.

Traveling to exotic locations like Morocco, India, Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Guatemala impacted Rafelson, she claimed.

“He enjoyed nothing more than retreating into unexpected niches of the earth,” Taurek Rafelson remarked.

Rafelson and his wife Taurek Rafelson moved to Aspen to raise their two sons, Ethan and Harper, twenty years ago. Peter and Julie were his children with his first wife, Toby Rafelson; Julie passed away at the age of 10 in 1973.

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