John G Avildsen
Rocky director John G Avildsen dies at the age of 81 Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

The man who turned Sylvester Stallone into a star with the role of Rocky, director John G Avildsen, died on 16 June. The news was confirmed by his eldest son, Anthony, who told the Los Angeles Times that his father had been suffering from pancreatic cancer at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He was 81 years old.

Alongside Rocky, which earned him an Academy Award for direction, Avildsen celebrated the rise of the underdog in three of The Karate Kid films, which he helmed.

He earned an Oscar nomination again in 1983 for the documentary Traveling Hopefully.

Avildsen also directed Joe (1970), which featured Susan Sarandon and Peter Boyle; Jack Lemmon-starrer Save the Tiger (1973) and The Formula (1980) in which George C Scott and Marlon Brando acted.

"We were greatly saddened to learn of the passing of beloved director John Avildsen. His iconic Rocky, which won the DGA Feature Film Award in 1976, has been lionized throughout our culture as the quintessential underdog story – a recurring theme in his notable body of work which included Save the Tiger and The Karate Kid franchise," the Director's Guild president Paris Barclay said in a statement following the news of his demise.

"Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans."

MGM chairman and CEO Gary Barber also mourned the loss to the film industry, describing Avildsen as one of America's treasured filmmakers. "Everyone remembers the first time when they saw Rocky. For over 40 years, the enduring classic underdog story about an every man overcoming all odds defined generations of moviegoers. He will always be remembered by his MGM family," he said.

Stallone took to social media to share his thoughts and a photo with the director. "I owe just about everything to John Avildsen. His directing, his passion, his toughness and his heart — a great heart — is what made Rocky the film it became," the actor said in a separate statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "He changed my life and I will be forever indebted to him. Nobody could have done it better than my friend John Avildsen. I will miss him."

Ralph Macchio, who acted in The Karate Kid echoed similar sentiments, describing Avildsen's work as an inspiration during his teenage years. "His earlier films, Rocky and Save The Tiger, helped influence my adolescence. His guidance in the creation of Daniel LaRusso and direction in The Karate Kid became an influence that changed my life. There are countless examples where his guiding hand created much of the magic we were able to achieve on screen. My thoughts are with his family and close friends. He will be missed."