Flamboyant British filmmaker Ken Russell has passed away in his sleep on Sunday evening, aged 84. Born in Southampton in 1927, Russell started his career in the industry as a photographer and independent documentary filmmaker after spells in the Merchant Navy and Royal Air Force. His attention turned to the small screen in 1959 when he secured a job at the BBC, where he produced a number of successful documentaries including Elgar (1962), Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World (1967) and Song of Summer (1968), which he later described as the best film of his career. He also began to try his hand at feature films, making his debut in 1963 with the comedy French Dressing and directing Billion Dollar Brain (1967) before his major breakthrough, the D.H. Lawrence adaptation Women in Love (1969). The film proved revolutionary due to a nude wrestling scene featuring stars Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, and it also earned a host of accolades, including a Best Actress Oscar for Glenda Jackson and an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for Russell.
Following the success of Women in Love, Russell went on to direct the Tchaikovsky biopic The Music Lovers (1970) before reteaming with Oliver Reed for his most controversial effort, The Devils (1971), which was heavily cut by Warner Bros. and to this day remains unreleased in its original form. Russell scored another success in 1975 with his adaptation of The Who’s rock opera Tommy but after a number of American productions such as Altered States (1980) and Crimes of Passion (1984), Russell found his Hollywood star fading and returned to Britain, directing small scale films such as Gothic (1986), The Lair of the White Worm (1988), The Rainbow (1989) and Whore (1991). He spent much of the following two decades working in television and by the 2000s, Russell found himself serving as a visiting professor at the University of Wales, Newport Film School and the University of Southampton, while his final directing effort was a segment of the horror anthology Trapped Ashes (2006) entitled The Girl with the Golden Breasts.