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Lewis Gilbert, James Bond director, dies at 97

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Feb 27, 2018

It is a sad day for the world of spy flicks as veteran James Bond director Lewis Gilbert has died at the age of 97, reports Deadline. The filmmaker was instrumental in bringing three key Bond films to the silver screen: You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker, all of which are notable for their theme songs sung by Nancy Sinatra, Carly Simon, and Shirley Bassey, respectively. 

You Only Live Twice (1967), Bond's adventure in Japan, was Sean Connery's penultimate film in the titular role before Diamonds Are Forever (unless you count Never Say Never Again); The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) introduced the famous character of Jaws (played by Richard Kiel) and was parodied by the second Austin Powers movie 22 years later; and Moonraker (1979) was a byproduct of the science fiction craze of the late 1970s, following the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the First Kind.

Gilbert was born in Hackney, London, to a family of music-hall performers, and was introduced to the world of entertainment at a very young age. After his father died of tuberculosis, Gilbert became the sole financial supporter of his family by starring as a child actor in movies during the 1920s and '30s. As a teenager, he acted against heavyweights like Victor McLaglen (Dick Turpin) and Laurence Olivier (The Divorce of Lady X) before joining the Royal Air Force at the outset of World War II. 

After the war ended, he wrote and produced documentaries and movies based on real-world stories during the conflict, such as Reach for the Sky (1956) and Sink the Bismarck! (1960). Gilbert's first major film was Alfie in 1966 with Michael Caine, the classic dramedy about a ladies' man coming to terms with the repercussions of his wanton lifestyle. Alfie's success nabbed him the job to direct You Only Live Twice, a project Gilbert had to be convinced to work on by famed Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli; at the time, he was more in his element when directing character-based stories.

In the early 1970s, he was meant to direct Oliver!, but had already agreed to do The Adventurers, a pivot he once described as "the lowest point" in his life. Carol Reed got the job instead, but an even bigger missed opportunity was that Gilbert had been offered to direct The Godfather. However, Paramount was reportedly only willing to pony up $2 million when he needed $7 million to make it. It eventually got the budget, but with Francis Ford Coppola as director and Gilbert moving on to make Friends, which starred Sean Bury and Anicée Alvina and featured music by Elton John. 

The Spy Who Loved Me came six years later (Gilbert's self-professed favorite of the three Bond entries he directed) and Moonraker two after that. What followed were a string of British dramedies like Educating Rita (another team-up with Caine), Not Quite Paradise, and Shirley Valentine. His last genre feature was Haunted in 1995 with Aidan Quinn and Kate Beckinsale, a Winchester-esque horror film about a skeptical professor visiting an out-of-the-way British property where supernatural occurrences are said to take place. 

Gilbert's final feature film, Before You Go, was released in 2002 and starred Tom Wilkinson.

To mourn his passing, fans (and the sanctioned Bond account) took to Twitter, so they could pay tribute, and remember his biggest movies. 

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