DENVER (AP) – Bob Rafelson, an influential figure in the 70s New Hollywood era who was nominated for two Oscars for “Five Easy Pieces,” has passed away. He was 89 years old.
Rafelson died at his Aspen home Saturday night surrounded by his family, his wife, Gabrielle Taurek Rafelson said.
Rafelson was responsible for co-creating the fictional pop music group and television series “The Monkees” along with the late Bert Schneider, which earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967.
But perhaps he was best known for his work during the New Hollywood era, which saw a classic studio system give way to a host of rebellious young voices and new directing styles, and helped usher in talents like Martin Scorsese. , Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.
Rafelson directed and co-wrote “Five Easy Pieces,” about an upper-class pianist craving a more blue-collar life, and “The King of Marvin Gardens,” about a depressed late-night radio talk show host. Both films starred Jack Nicholson and explored the themes of the American dream gone haywire. “Five Easy Pieces” earned Rafelson two Academy Award nominations in 1971 for Best Picture and Screenplay.
He has also produced great 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 film artists of his time” and his fans include Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson.
Rafelson was born in New York City and was a distant relative of “The Jazz Singer” screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, who he said was interested in his work. In Dartmouth he also befriended legendary screenwriter Buck Henry.
He developed an interest in Japanese cinema and Yasujiro Ozu’s films, most notably “Tokyo Story”, while serving in the United States Army in Japan.
After college, Rafelson married his high school sweetheart, who would work as a production designer for his films and others. He got his start in show business on television, writing for programs like “The Witness” and “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
But “The Monkees” was his first big hit. The idea for The Monkees, he said, predates the Beatles and the musical comedy “A Hard Day’s Night,” but it hit the spot when it first premiered on NBC in 1966. It ran for two years and has allowed Rafelson to try directing himself.
The Monkees also appeared in his directorial debut, “Head,” which would be the first of many collaborations with Nicholson.
“I may have thought he 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 Speke, as they searched for the source of the Nile, said his wife.
Rafelson’s adventures in places like Morocco, India, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Guatemala have influenced his work, he said.
“He loved nothing more than disappearing into strange pockets of the world,” said Taurek Rafelson.
Rafelson left Hollywood two decades ago to focus on raising two children 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 she was 10.