Multiple sources are reporting that British director Michael Apted has died. Boasting a genre-spanning body of work that included biopics about Loretta Lynn and Dian Fossey, comedies starring John Belushi and Richard Pryor, a James Bond film, and a C.S. Lewis adaptation, Apted also directed all but one installment in the groundbreaking Up series of documentaries. No cause of death has been given. He was 79.
Apted began his career in the 1960s, with Granada Television. Working as a researcher for the broadcaster, he gathered the school-age subjects for an episode of the current affairs program World In Action. That 1964 documentary, Seven Up!, depicted the lives of 14 seven-year-olds representing various British social classes; in 1970, those same children were profiled in a follow-up, 7 Plus Seven, this time directed by Apted. And so it was every seven years afterward, each subsequent Up entry charting the trajectories of these eventually not-so-young people, and adding more facets to a staggering, one-of-a-kind nonfiction project.
During his time with Granada, Apted entered into the realm of fictional filmmaking, helming episodes of series that included another long-running British institution: the soap opera Coronation Street. His feature directorial debut, the World War II drama The Triple Echo, arrived two years after 7 Plus Seven, and he’d alternate between efforts for the big and small screens for the remainder of the ’70s. In 1980, his eye for true stories and social issues turned toward the biography of country star Loretta Lynn. Directed by Apted, the film version of Coal Miner’s Daughter was critically acclaimed and a box-office smash, earning a Best Picture nomination at the 53rd Academy Awards, where star Sissy Spacek won the Oscar for Best Actress. Recalling her experience with Apted in a 2012 interview, Spacek told The A.V. Club “[W]hat he did as a director, he created an atmosphere in which people were free. And it was very relaxed and very natural.” Coal Miner’s Daughter was added to the National Film Registry in 2019.
Apted followed Coal Miner’s Daughter with John Belushi’s lone romantic comedy outing, Continental Divide, and the Soviet Union-set thriller Gorky Park. Elected president of the Directors Guild of America for the first of three terms in 2003, he leaves behind a prolific and eclectic filmography: Richard Pryor as a con man posing as a surgeon in Critical Condition; Pierce Brosnan as 007 in The World Is Not Enough; the conclusion of the mid-’00s/early-’10s Chronicles Of Narnia trilogy, Voyage Of The Dawn Treader; multiple episodes of the HBO historical epic Rome and Showtime’s post-Mad Men spin on Masters and Johnson, Masters Of Sex. Apted directed Sigourney Weaver and Jodie Foster to Best Actress Oscar nominations in Gorillas In The Mist and Nell, respectively, and was honored with BAFTA Awards for his own work on 28 Up and 35 Up.
For over 50 years, some Up participants came and went, the series’ focus expanded to cover forces shaping their lives beyond the class system, and the films grew from a primetime one-off to an internationally celebrated chronicle of the ordinary. Through it all, Apted was the constant. He was still behind the camera for 2019’s 63 Up, and while promoting the documentary, expressed his desire to remain there. As he told On The Media, “I hope to do 84 Up when I’ll be 99.”