John Schlesinger, the openly gay director of Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man and Sunday, Bloody Sunday died this week aged 77, Reuters reported. Schlesinger suffered a stroke in 2000 and was taken off life support on the weekend.

Schlesinger found success in the 1960s with films such as Billy Liar (1963), Darling (1965) and Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) before directing his most important film Midnight Cowboy (1969). It became the first X-rated feature to win best picture and scored Schlesinger a best director award.

Though critically lauded, gay film writers Vito Russo and Boze Hadleigh wrote that the film reinforced negative stereotypes of gay men as predators and losers. But the film’s success enabled Schlesinger to make Sunday, Bloody Sunday, a romantic tragedy about a man and a woman who share a male bisexual lover. The film featured one of the screen’s first male-male kisses (between actors Murray Head and Peter Finch) and though not a box-office success, it is now widely regarded as one of the best films of the -˜70s (by critics including Hadleigh).

Schlesinger was one of only a handful of openly gay Hollywood directors. He was featured in the film and book The Celluloid Closet, signed a petition with other Hollywood luminaries against the anti-gay UK legislation Section 28 and had a cameo as a gay character in the telemovie The Lost Language Of Cranes (1991).

He said in 1970: I’m only interested in one thing -“ that is tolerance. I’m terribly concerned about people and the limitation of freedom. It’s important to get people to care a little for someone else. That’s why I’m more interested in the failures of this world than the successes.

Schlesinger’s later films met with mixed responses from critics and audiences. Minor hits like The Falcon And The Snowman (1985), Madame Sousatzka (1988) and Cold Comfort Farm (1995) were balanced against less impressive outings such as Eye For An Eye (1996) and Pacific Heights (1989). Other films with gay themes include the telemovie Separate Tables (1983) and his last film, the lambasted gay comedy The Next Best Thing (2000) which starred Madonna and Rupert Everett.

Schlesinger is survived by his partner of 30 years, photographer Michael Childers.

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