Julie Andrews' husband Blake Edwards, 88, dies of pneumonia

Golden years: Edwards with his Honorary Academy Award in 2004

Dame Julie Andrews was in mourning last night following the death of her husband, film director Blake Edwards at the age of 88.

The Mary Poppins actress, who had been married to Edwards for 41 years, was being comforted by her family in the US.

She had been at Edwards' bedside at St John’s Health Centre in California when he passed away at 10.30pm on Wednesday night following complications from pneumonia.

The American filmmaker was regarded as a modern master of contemporary film comedy through films such as the Pink Panther series.

In a career that stretched back to the mid-50s, Edwards directed more than 30 films, including Operation Petticoat, starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis and the classic Breakfast At Tiffany’s, which starred Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard.

Earlier this month, Miss Andrews, 75, was forced to withdraw as the host of the upcoming New Year’s Eve music concert in Vienna to be with her husband as his health deteriorated.

He had also fought a 15-year battle against Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and depression.

She said at the time: ?My husband is having some health issues and my obligation is to stay in L.A. at this time. It is with regrets that I must take a ?rain check’ this year.’

The pair married in 1969 and went on to work together on seven films, most famously Darling Lili, 10 and Victor/Victoria, all of which were directed by Edwards and starred Andrews.

The couple adopted two Vietnamese orphans Amy Leigh in 1974 and Joanna Lynn in 1975.

The son of a production manager and grandson of a silent-screen director, Edwards started his career as an actor in 1942 before directing his first film in 1952.

He was handed a lifetime achievement award at the 2004 Oscars ceremony.

Julie Andrews with Edwards after he was awarded the Legion Of Honour, in Cannes

Happy marriage: Edwards' widow Dame Julie Andrews, pictured at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992, was by his side when he died

At the time, he was asked about the difference between his classic comedies and the work of contemporary directors, to which he replied: ?Whether or not my films live on, or whether or not there’s a difference, there’s a place for both.

?I was raised in a particular way, silent films, the great comics, a certain kind of comedy. I literally sat at the feet at some of the great comedy directors. I’m just tuned into that.

?A lot of the things that the younger generation finds funny I just can’t relate to them. Not looking down on them, things just change. Younger audiences like some of my films, they still understand whatever it is that makes that era so important.’

Edwards’s spokesman Gene Schwam, who had known the star for 40 years, said last night: ?His heart was as big as his talent. He was an Academy Award winner in all respects.’

Hollywood insider behind box office smashes such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, 10 and The Pink Panther

Pink Panther genius: Blake Edwards in the director's chair

As a director and writer, Blake Edwards was known for his clever dialogue, poignance and occasional belly-laugh sight gags in films such as 'Breakfast at Tiffany's,' '10' and the 'Pink Panther' farces.

A third-generation filmmaker, Edwards was praised for evoking classic performances from Jack Lemmon, Audrey Hepburn, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Lee Remick and Andrews, his wife of 42 years.

Edwards directed and often wrote a wide variety of movies including 'Days of Wine and Roses,' a harrowing story of alcoholism; 'The Great Race,' a comedy-adventure that starred Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood; and 'Victor/Victoria,' his gender-bender musical comedy with Andrews.

He was also known for an independent spirit that brought clashes with studio bosses.

He vented his disdain for the Hollywood system in his 1981 black comedy, 'S.O.B.'

'I was certainly getting back at some of the producers of my life,' he once remarked, 'although I was a good deal less scathing than I could have been. The only way I got to make it was because of the huge success of '10,' and even then they tried to sabotage it.'

Because many of his films were studded with farcical situations, some reviewers criticised his work.

However, Richard Schickel wrote in Time magazine: 'When director Edwards is at his best, there is something bracing, and in these days, unique about his comedy. ... He really wants to save the world by showing how stupid some of its creatures can be.'

Steve Martin expressed his thoughts on Twitter, writing, 'Blake Edwards was one of the people who made me love comedy. Sorry to hear of his passing.'

Although many of Edwards' films were solid hits, he was nominated for Academy Awards only twice, in 1982 for writing the adapted screenplay of 'Victor/Victoria' and in 1983 for co-writing 'The Man Who Loved Women.'

Lemmon and Remick won Oscar nominations in 1962 for 'Days of Wine and Roses,' and Hepburn was nominated for 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' in 1961.

The motion picture academy selected Edwards to receive a lifetime achievement award in 2004 for 'his writing, directing and producing an extraordinary body of work for the screen.'

Box office gold: Dudley Moore with Julie Andrews and Bo Derek in Blake Edwards' smash hit film '10'

Edwards shot to fame as director of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'starring Audrey Hepburn, left, and hit the headlines again with '10', starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, right

Edwards had entered television in 1958, creating 'Peter Gunn,' which established a new style of hard-edged detective series.  The tone was set by Henry Mancini's pulsating theme music.

Starring Craig Stevens, the series ran until 1961 and resulted in a 1967 feature movie 'Gunn'.
'Peter Gunn' marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Edwards and Mancini, who composed melodic scores and songs for most of Edwards' films.

Mancini won Academy Awards for the score of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and the song 'Moon River,' the title song of 'Days of Wine and Roses' and the score of 'Victor/Victoria.'

The Edwards family history extended virtually the entire length of American motion pictures. J. Gordon Edwards was a pioneering director of silent films, including more than 20 with the exotic vamp Theda Bara.

His son, Jack McEdwards (the family name), became a top assistant director and production manager in Hollywood.

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and Bert Kwouk as his servant Kato in the 1974 Film 'Return of the Pink Panther'

A scene from the movie "The Great Race"(1965) directed by Blake Edwards, Starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and Peter Falk

Edwards began in films as an actor, playing small roles in such movies as 'A Guy Named Joe' and 'Ten Gentlemen From West Point.'

After 18 months in the Coast Guard in World War II, he returned to acting but soon realised he lacked the talent.

With John Champion, he wrote a Western, 'Panhandle', which he produced and acted in for the quickie studio, Monogram. He followed with 'Stampede.'

In 1947, Edwards turned to radio and created the hard-boiled 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective'; it was converted to television in 1957, starring David Janssen with Mary Tyler Moore as his secretary, whose face is never seen on-screen.

Tiring of the TV grind, Edwards returned to films and directed his first feature, 'Bring Your Smile Along'.

After a few more B movies which he usually co-wrote, he made the big time in 1958 with 'The Perfect Furlough', starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and 'Operation Petticoat' with Cary Grant and Curtis.

'Breakfast at Tiffany's' in 1961 established Edwards as a stylish director who could combine comedy with bittersweet romance.

Star couple: Andrews and Edwards in 1966 - three years before they married

Iconic: Edwards directed Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film classic Breakfast At Tiffany's and his wife in Victor Victoria in 1982

His next two films proved his versatility: the suspenseful 'Experiment in Terror' (1962) and 'Days of Wine and Roses' (1963), the story of a couple's alcoholism, with Lemmon in his first dramatic role.

'The Great Race,' about an auto race in the early 1900s, marked Edwards' first attempt at a big-budget spectacle.

He spent Warner Bros' money lavishly, raising the ire of studio boss Jack Warner. The 1965 release proved a modest success.

Edwards' disdain for the studios reached a peak in the 1970 'Darling Lili', a World War I romance starring his new wife, Andrews, and Rock Hudson.

The long, expensive Paris location infuriated the Paramount bosses. The movie flopped, continuing Andrews' decline from her position as Hollywood's No. 1 star.

For a decade, Edwards' only hits were 'Pink Panther' sequels.

Then came '10,' which he also produced and wrote. The sex comedy became a box-office winner, creating a new star in Bo Derek and restoring the director's reputation.

He scored again in 1982 with 'Victor/Victoria,' with Andrews playing a woman who poses as a (male) female impersonator.

His later films became more personal, particularly the 1986 'That's Life', which he wrote with his psychiatrist.

Andrews and Edwards married in 1968. She had a daughter, Emma, from her marriage to Broadway designer Tony Walton.

Edwards had a daughter, Jennifer, and a son, Geoffrey, from his marriage to Patricia Edwards.
He and Andrews adopted two Vietnamese children, Amy and Jo.

Edwards is survived by his wife, five children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
His family says a private memorial is planned and a public memorial will be scheduled in the new year.

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