Bob Rafelson, director of the New Hollywood era, has died at 89

DENVER (AP) — Bob Rafelson, an influential figure in the New Hollywood era of the 1970s who was nominated for two Oscars for “Five Easy Pieces,” has died. He was 89.


what you should Know

  • Bob Rafelson died at his home in Aspen on Saturday, surrounded by his family, said his wife, Gabrielle Taurek Rafelson
  • Rafelson was an influential figure in the New Hollywood era of the 1970s, nominated for two Oscars for Five Easy Pieces
  • Francis Ford Coppola once called him “one of the most important cinematic artists of his era”
  • Among his fans are Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson

Rafelson died at his home in Aspen Saturday night, surrounded by his family, said his wife, Gabrielle Taurek Rafelson.

Rafelson was responsible for co-creating the fictional pop group and television series The Monkees with the late Bert Schneider, which earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967.

But he was perhaps best known for his work during the New Hollywood era, when the classic studio system gave way to a group of rebellious young voices and fresh styles of filmmaking and helped bring forth talents such as Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.

Rafelson directed and co-wrote “Five Easy Pieces,” about an upper-class pianist longing for a bigger life, and “The King of Marvin Gardens,” about a depressed late-night radio talk show host. Both films star Jack Nicholson and explore themes of the failed American dream. Five Easy Pieces earned Rafelson two Oscar nominations in 1971, for best picture and best screenplay.

He also produced seminal new Hollywood classics, including Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider.

Coppola once called him “one of the most important cinematic artists of his era,” and his fans include Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson.

Raphaelson was born in New York and is a distant relative of “The Jazz Singer” screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, who he says took an interest in his work. At Dartmouth, he also became friends with the legendary screenwriter Buck Henry.

He became interested in Japanese cinema and the films of Yasujiro Ozu, especially Tokyo Story, while serving in the US Army in Japan.

After college, Rafelson married his high school sweetheart, who would work as a production designer on his films and others. He got his start in the entertainment business in television, writing for shows like “The Witness” and “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

But “The Monkees” was his first big success. The idea for The Monkees, he said, predated The Beatles and the musical comedy “A Hard Day’s Night,” but hit the spot well when it premiered on NBC in 1966. It ran for two years and allowed Rafelson to strike out directing himself.

The Monkees also appear in his feature directorial debut Head, which will be the first of many collaborations with Nicholson.

“I might have thought I started his career,” Nicholson told Esquire in 2019, “but I think he started my career.”

Rafelson was most proud of the 1990 film he directed, “Mountains of the Moon,” a biopic that told the story of two explorers, Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speake, as they searched for the source of the Nile, his wife said.

Rafelson’s adventures to places like Morocco, India, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Guatemala have influenced his work, she said.

“He loved nothing more than disappearing into strange corners of the world,” Taurek Rafelson said.

Rafelson left Hollywood two decades ago to focus on raising two sons with Taurek Rafelson, Ethan and Harper, in Aspen. He and his first wife, Toby Rafelson, also had two children, Peter and Julie, who died in 1973 when he was 10 years old.

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