Michael Ritchie, who made his bigscreen directing debut in 1969 with “Downhill Racer” and who then helmed a string of perceptive, sardonic spoofs, died Monday from complications of prostate cancer. He was 62.
The helmer hit his stride in the 1970s, with piercing, often humorous looks at American institutions such as politics (“The Candidate,” 1972), beauty pageants (“Smile,” 1975) and sports (“The Bad News Bears,” 1976, and “Semi-Tough,” 1978).
Other films include the Bette Midler concert pic “Divine Madness!” (1980), “Fletch” (1985) and its sequel “Fletch Lives” four years later, and “Diggstown” (1992).
Ritchie’s sharp, satiric sensibilities were also well displayed in the 1993 telepic “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom,” for which he won a DGA Award for TV movie.
Last year, MGM released “The Fantasticks,” which Ritchie had produced and directed in 1995. His last bigscreen feature was the 1997 “A Simple Wish”; since then, he had directed for TV, on such shows as Showtime’s “Beggars and Choosers.”
Ritchie was a Directors Guild of America board member; in a statement, guild president Jack Shea said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Michael Ritchie. His standard of excellence was exhibited not only in his work but also in his active service to the guild. Both we and the film community at large are left poorer by his passing.”
Ritchie was born Nov. 28, 1938, in Wisconsin, and debuted in the business in 1960, directing Arthur Kopit’s play “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad.” He broke into TV as an assistant producer on “Omnibus,” and went on to direct episodes of such series as “Dr. Kildare,” “The Big Valley” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
He made his feature debut in 1969, with Robert Redford starrer “Downhill Racer,” and re-teamed with the actor three years later on “The Candidate.” At a discussion following a recent DGA screening, Ritchie noted, “It really was our intention to make a film that was about the political process rather than one which said you should pick this way or that.”
His other feature credits included “Prime Cut,” “The Island,” “The Golden Child” and “The Scout.”
He is survived by his wife, Jimmie B. Ritchie, one son, four daughters, two stepchildren and a brother and sister. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be sent to the Center for Discovery, which assists those with severe disabilities.