Mr. Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — a tragicomic story of revolt and repression in a mental institution that was based on the Ken Kesey novel — won five Oscars, including for best director and best picture.
LOS ANGELES — Milos Forman, a filmmaker who challenged Hollywood with his subversive touch, and twice directed movies that won the Oscar for best picture, died Friday. He was 86.
His death in Connecticut was confirmed by Dennis Aspland, Mr. Forman’s agent.
A native of what was then Czechoslovakia, Mr. Forman came to the United States in the late 1960s as a rebellious young filmmaker whose satirical bent was little welcomed at home in the wake of the 1968 Soviet invasion.
A few years later, his “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — a tragicomic story of revolt and repression in a mental institution that was based on the Ken Kesey novel — won five Oscars, including for best director and best picture.
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The film put Mr. Forman in the front rank of those who struggled to make big, commercial films with countercultural sensibilities. His sympathy for the odd man out was always apparent, even as his movies grew in scope.
“Amadeus,” a 1984 adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s stage play, presented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a genius who undermined authority with his art. Again, Oscars for best director and best picture were among its many honors.
Still, Mr. Forman, by then a U.S. citizen, said one of his greatest pleasures from the film — which was shot in the Czech Republic — was the chance to return in triumph to his homeland.
“I’ve always done everything in my life to win,” Mr. Forman said of himself in a 1994 biography, “Turnaround: A Memoir,” written with Jan Novak.
Mr. Forman was caught up in the turmoil of German occupation not many years after his birth, in Caslav, on Feb. 18, 1932. Both his mother, born Anna Suabova, and the man he believed to be his father, a teacher named Rudolf Forman, had been separately seized by the Germans and killed in death camps.
For years, Mr. Forman vaguely told interviewers that he believed himself to be half-Jewish, though both parents attended a Protestant church. It was Novak, in researching “Turnaround,” who ended the mystery.
After the 1964 release of his first feature film, “Black Peter” — about the misadventures of a teenager beginning his work life — Mr. Forman was contacted by a woman who had been with his mother in Auschwitz, Novak learned and eventually reported. The woman explained that Forman was actually the son of a Jewish architect with whom Mr. Forman’s mother had an affair. In time, Mr. Forman found his biological father, who survived the war and was living in Peru.
When the Soviets invaded in August 1968, Mr. Forman was in Paris negotiating to make a Hollywood film. His first American feature, a youth comedy called “Taking Off,” was released by Universal Pictures in 1971. It did so poorly, Mr. Forman later said, that he wound up owing the studio $500.
Through the early 1970s, Mr. Forman went through a period of self-described depression. By then, he had been married twice, first to an actress, Jana Brejchova, then to another performer, Vera Kresadlova, who had remained in Czechoslovakia with their two sons, Petr and Matej.
In addition to Petr and Matej, he is survived by Martina Formanova, his third wife; and his twin sons, James and Andrew, with Formanova.
In his memoir, Mr. Forman said the producers of “Cuckoo’s Nest,” Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, sought him out because “I seemed to be in their price range.”
Jack Nicholson was the movie’s star. But Mr. Forman — who liked to coax star performances out of lesser-known actors — did that with Louise Fletcher, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the dictatorial Nurse Ratched.
“Hair” and “Ragtime,” which came next, left less impression, but kept Mr. Forman on the list of directors whom executives were willing to trust with their more sophisticated projects.
It was for Zaentz that Mr. Forman next struck gold, with “Amadeus.” The film won eight Oscars and, Mr. Forman later wrote, left him with a bittersweet, and ultimately correct, sense that his career had peaked.
“Valmont” was overshadowed in 1989 by the previous year’s release of “Dangerous Liaisons,” a film that used the same underlying material.
Mr. Forman next made a series of films, each of which pushed Hollywood out of its comfort zone, including “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Man on the Moon,” a complex portrait of the comic Andy Kaufman and his alter-ego Tony Clifton. They did not do well at the box office.