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updated: 9/22/2013 7:36 AM

Influential director Richard Sarafian dies at 83

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  • This photo released by shows director Richard Sarafian. Sarafian, an influential film director whose 1971 countercultural car-chase thriller "Vanishing PointÓ\" brought him a decades-long cult following, has died in California, his son said Saturday Sept. 21, 2013.

      This photo released by shows director Richard Sarafian. Sarafian, an influential film director whose 1971 countercultural car-chase thriller "Vanishing PointÓ\" brought him a decades-long cult following, has died in California, his son said Saturday Sept. 21, 2013.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Richard Sarafian, an influential film director whose 1971 countercultural car-chase thriller "Vanishing Point" brought him a decades-long cult following, has died in Southern California, his son said Saturday night.

Richard Sarafian died at a Santa Monica hospital on Wednesday of pneumonia contracted while he was recovering from a fall, Deran Sarafian told The Associated Press. He was 83.

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Sarafian worked primarily in television in his early career, directing episodes of 60s shows like "Gunsmoke," "I Spy," and "77 Sunset Strip."

He also directed 1963's "Living Doll" episode of "The Twilight Zone," a chilling tale whose demonic main character Talky Tina terrified children for decades. That included his own kids. Deran Sarafian said as a boy he thought the episode was "the most horrible thing I've ever seen" before learning his father had made it.

But Richard Sarafian was best known by far for "Vanishing Point," a dark story of a drug-fueled auto pursuit through the Nevada desert brought on by a bet between a Vietnam vet and his drug dealer.

"It was about speed" in both the drug and automotive senses, Deran Serafian said. "About what it really meant."

The film and director had a major influence on the generation of maverick moviemakers and actors, often referred to as "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," who would come to dominate Hollywood in the 1970s.

"He's considered one of the original Raging Bulls, that's why Warren Beatty and Sean Penn and people like that absolutely adore him," Deran Sarafian said.

Beatty was a particularly devoted fan, casting Sarafian as an actor in two of his own 1990s films, "Bugsy" and "Bulworth."

And he had nearly as big an influence on later directors like Quentin Tarantino, who gave him a "special thanks" credit at the end of one of his films.

Sarafian was close friends with "MASH" director Robert Altman, and twice married Altman's sister Helen Joan Altman, who died in 2011.

He's survived by four sons and a daughter.

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