Owen Roizman, the groundbreaking and five-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer, died on Friday at his home in Encino, California, where he had been in hospice care since August. He was 86.
Roizman received Oscar nominations for his work on The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973), Network (1976), Tootsie (1982), and Wyatt Earp (1994). At the 9th Annual Governors Awards, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his contributions to cinema.
"My dear friend from New York, Dick DiBona, back in the early '70s, based on my commercial work, recommended me to Billy Friedkin to shoot The French Connection," Roizman said in his acceptance speech, "and the rest is history."
Born on September 22, 1936, in New York City and raised in Brooklyn, Roizman was the son of a newsreel cameraman, Sol. His uncle, Morrie Roizman, was an editor and producer, including the 1954 Oscar-nominated documentary short, Rembrandt: A Self-Portrait. Roizman graduated from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania with a degree in math and physics, but eventually followed into the family business.
His first film as cinematographer was Bill Gunn's Stop! in 1970, which was shelved by Warner Brothers and never released after receiving an X rating. The following year saw the release of William Friedkin's The French Connection, which Roizman had been tapped to lense based on his ability to capture the grittiness of New York city through realistic yet dynamic street photography.
The French Connection earned him his first-ever Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. (The film itself took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay.) His second Oscar nomination came two years later, when Roizman reteamed with Friedkin for The Exorcist.
Roizman was known for his collaborations with director Sydney Pollack, with whom he shot five films, including Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, and the Oscar-winning Tootsie, and Lawrence Kasdan, with whom he shot four films, including the Oscar-nominated Wyatt Earp, and Roizman's final film, 1995's French Kiss.
Roizman served on the Academy's Board of Governors, representing the cinematographers' branch, and was honored at the Governors Awards with an Honorary Oscar for his contributions to film in 2017. During the ceremony, he was introduced by cinematographer Daryn Okada, Tootsie star Dustin Hoffman, and Kasdan. ("Owen has inspired young filmmakers for 40 years," Kasdan said. "He will inspire them forever.")
"When I first started shooting features, an old stagehand told me that he thought it was Orson Welles who said, 'This is a very collaborative effort, making movies,'" Roizman reflected. "Film is made up of many tiny silver particles and each one of those particles is represented by every person who works on the film. You can imagine how many different people I've worked with, and had you changed any one of them on any movie, the movie would have looked different."
Roizman is survived by his wife, Mona, and their son, Eric, who has followed in his artistic footsteps as a camera operator.