Despite what people say, there are very few truly distinctive characters in cinema, few individuals who remain true to their artistic vision throughout their careers. Love him or loathe him, Michael Winner was such a man. He died today at the age of 77 following a long battle with liver problems. "A light has gone out in my life," said his wife Geraldine.
Perhaps best known for his work with Charles Bronson and the Death Wish series they made together, Winner also worked with Robert Mitchum on noir remake The Big Sleep and shot a total of 35 features over the course of his career. Often outspoken, he developed a second career as a newspaper columnist which made his natural warmth and humour visible to audiences that had previously only associated him with violence. His natural home was the thriller but he also experimented with horror, scoring a hit with The Sentinel in 1977, and made occasional ventures into documentary.
Frequently sending up his own image, Winner starred in a series of car commercials using the catchphrase "Calm down, dear," which would later get David Cameron into trouble. He was amused by public perceptions of him as a sexist boor, very different from the man his friends remember. He turned down the offer of an OBE for his work with police charities, dismissing it as a meaningless award. His legacy is his work, and if, at the heart of that, is the creation of the modern anti-hero, it's something with which he was happy enough.