His first profession was that of a stand-up comedian, in partnership with Elaine May, and if Mike Nichols retired from show business when their partnership dissolved in the early 1960s, Nichols would still be revered as a legend. The team of Nichols and May is still honored today as one of the best and most influential comedy acts of all time. But Nichols post stand-up career as a director of stage and screen is what propelled him from the status of legend to that of an American icon. Nichols died suddenly on Wednesday. Cause of death is unknown. He was 83.
Born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, Germany to Jewish parents, Nichols was sent to America in 1938 to escape the Nazis. The family adopted the anglicized Nichols as a surname and eventually settled in New York City.
Nichols was a member of Chicago’s Compass Players, a precursor to the the legendary Second City group, and it is there where he met Elaine May. The pair formed a duo in 1958 and soon became one of the most famous comedy teams of the day. Their act led them all the way to Broadway, where An Evening With Mick Nichols and Elaine May ran from October 1960 to July 1961. The album of that show won the pair a Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 1961.
The team of Nichols and May broke up in 1961, and Nichols turned his attention to directing. Starting on the Broadway stage, he would bring plays such as Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and Spamalot to the Great White Way for the first time. His work on Broadway would earn him nine Tony awards.
In 1966, Nichols would make the jump to film directing with Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. This began a 41-year career in the cinema where Nichols would be involved in some of the most iconic films of the modern era, including The Graduate (which earned Nichols and Oscar for Best Director), Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Closer and Charlie Wilson’s War.
Nichols made two forays into television directing, 2001’s Wit and 2003’s Angels in America, both of which earned Nichols Emmy’s, forever placing him on that legendary list of artists who won an EGOT–an award in all of the four major entertainment categories.
Nichols was active on the Broadway stage as recently as this year, having directed Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in Betrayal, which ended its Broadway run in January.