Mike Nichols, who died Wednesday at the age of 83, had the kind of career most could only dream of, and few have actually accomplished. His legacy as a director extends to nearly every corner of the entertainment business. On Broadway, he directed the first runs of award-winning plays like Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. On screen, he helped transform Hollywood with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate, and television with the miniseries adaptation of Angels in America. Through his wide-ranging work, Nichols became one of only a handful of people to win a so-called EGOT: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.
Nichols, who was born to Jewish parents and escaped Germany to the United States prior to World War II, found early success as one-half of the comedy duo Nichols and May. Their 1961 comedy album An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May won a Grammy Award. After parting ways with May, Nichols moved on to directing for the stage, where during his decades-spanning career he received nine Tony Awards, most recently in 2012 for Death of a Salesman.
On screen, Nichols worked with many of Hollywood’s best actors—Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Robin Williams, Gilda Radner, Philip Seymour Hoffman—and made Dustin Hoffman a star by taking a chance on the then virtually unknown actor for The Graduate. For Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, his debut as a feature director, he wrangled jarring, memorable performances out of the famously tempestuous couple of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. In Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, Burton is quoted as saying of Nichols that he was one of only two men (Noël Coward being the other) who had “the capacity to change the world when they walk into a room. They are both as bland as butter and as brilliant as diamonds.”