Bob Rafelson, director and producer of 1971's Best Picture nominated Five Easy Pieces, died on Saturday at his home in Aspen, Colorado, his wife Gabrielle Taurek Rafelson announced. He was 89.
Born in New York City on February 21, 1933, Rafelson was inspired by the screenwriter Samson Raphaelson (The Shop Around the Corner), to whom he was distantly related, to pursue a career in filmmaking. His Hollywood breakthrough came with the 1966 television series, The Monkees.
Rafelson and producing partner Bert Schneider created the sitcom, casting David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork as a fictional rock and roll band that became actual pop icons. The series ran for only two seasons on NBC but won its creators the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967.
Rafelson brought The Monkees to the big screen with his subversive feature debut, 1968's Head, but it was his collaborations with actor Jack Nicholson that would come to define the filmmaker's career. (Nicholson co-wrote Head and appeared in the movie.)
With Schneider, Rafelson founded the trailblazing Raybert Productions — later renamed BBS Productions — which helped user in New Hollywood movement. One of their earliest films was 1969's Easy Rider, the directorial debut of Dennis Hopper and the movie that earned star Nicholson his first Oscar nomination (for Best Actor in a Supporting Role).
For his sophomore feature, Rafelson cast Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces as an upper-class pianist named Bobby Dupea who becomes disillusions with his life of privilege and begins working on an oil rig. The film earned four nominations at the 43rd Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, as well as Best Actor for Nicholson and Best Supporting Actress for Karen Black.
"Five Easy Pieces took years to arrive at it, and it was about people that I knew. I had a very hard time trying to figure out how to put them in a dramatic framework as a movie, and had a lot of help doing that from the screenwriter, Adrien Joyce," Rafelson in a 2010 interview with The A.V. Club. "It was very organic for me to think about what I was thinking about, and then it became impossible not to make."
Rafelson and Nicholson would collaborate on seven films in total, including The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), Man Trouble (1992), and Blood and Wine (1996). "I may have thought I started his career," Nicholson said in a 2019 interview with Esquire. "But I think he started my career."
Through BBS Productions, Rafelson also produced films such as Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (which earned eight Oscar nominations and won awards for stars Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman); Peter Davis's Hearts and Minds (which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature); and Nicholson's own directorial debut, Drive, He Said. Rafelson's final film was 2002's No Good Deed, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Milla Jovovich and Stellan Skarsgård.