Michael Apted dies, aged 79

Tributes paid to groundbreaking documentarian

by Amber Wilkinson

Michael Apted, in New York to promote 63 Up
Michael Apted, in New York to promote 63 Up Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Groundbreaking documentarian Michael Apted has died at the age of 79. His death, in Los Angeles, was confirmed by Hollywood Reporter, although further details aren't known.

The filmmaker was best known for his pioneering Up series of television documentaries, which charted a cohort of 14 people from the age of seven and which began in 1964 with 7 Up and dipped in and out of the children's, then adults' lives regularly afterwards, with the most recent instalment 63 Up made in 2019.

He also made a number of fiction feature films, ranging from biographical dramas The Coalminer's Daughter and Gorillas In The Mist to action films and thrillers including The World Is Not Enough and Extreme Measures. As he told us when we spoke to him the year 63 Up was released: "I started in documentary. My secret was to become a movie director. I didn't tell anybody that."

Apted is credited with being a huge influence on documentarians who followed him and, more recently, reality television, as he allowed the subjects of his films to tell their stories in their own words. But he also told us: "If they don't want to talk about something we don't do it."

He was made a companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) in 2008 for his services to film and TV.

Directors Guild of America president Thomas Schlamme said: "Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of esteemed director, long-time DGA leader and my friend Michael Apted. His legacy will be forever woven into the fabric of cinema and our Guild. A fearless visionary as a director and unparalleled Guild leader, Michael saw the trajectory of things when others didn’t, and we were all the beneficiaries of his wisdom and lifelong dedication."

ITV's managing director Kevin Lygo said the Up films "demonstrated the possibilities of television at its finest in its ambition and its capacity to hold up a mirror to society and engage with and entertain people while enriching our perspective on the human condition".

And composer David G Arnold, who worked with Apted on several films, wrote on Twitter: "A more trusting, funny, friendly and, most importantly, kind person you’d never meet . So pleased to have known him and so sad that he’s gone."

Apted is survived by his third wife Paige Simpson and his two sons, John and Jim, and daughter Lily Mellis, from his previous relationships.

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