Michael Winner, the film director and food critic, has died aged 77, his wife Geraldine confirmed this afternoon.
Winner had struggled with ill health since eating an infected oyster on holiday in Barbados in 2007 and revealed last summer that liver specialists had given him between 18 months and two years to live. He said he had considered travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to undergo assisted suicide but found the administrative process offputting.
“I checked Dignitas on the computer and you need to go through so much. It’s not a walk-in death,” Winner told The Times. “You don’t just go in and say ‘Here I am, do your worst’. You have to go through a whole series of papers and re-examinations just to die. You have to fill in forms and things and you have to fly there, go back twice.”
Probably best-known for directing 1974 Charles Bronson revenge thriller Death Wish and two sequels, Winner also worked with Hollywood stars including Robert Mitchum, Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster and Sophia Loren in a career spanning over forty years.
More recently, he became known as a restaurant critic, writing a regular column, Winner’s Dinners, for The Sunday Times. He shared his love of food – not to mention his outspoken, often brattish persona – on ITV series Michael Winner’s Dining Stars, in which he visited the homes of members of the public to eat a meal before critically appraising it. Winner is also recognised as the face of the esure car insurance TV ads, in which he used the catchphrase “Calm down, dear!”
Until November 2012, Winner had been a keen user of social networking site Twitter, where he described himself as “a totally insane film director, writer, producer, silk shirt cleaner, bad tempered, totally ridiculous example of humanity in deep shit.”
In 2006, Winner declined an OBE for his campaigning work for the Police Memorial Trust, saying “An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross Station.”
He leaves behind his wife Geraldine, whom he finally married in 2011, having first met her in 1957 when she was a ballet dancer and aspiring actress and he was a young filmmaker.