American film director and editor William Hal Ashby (September 2, 1929 — December 27, 1988) was a complete fucking mess. Married and divorced five times, dependent on drugs and considered a recluse, his life and work reflected the counterculture lifestyle. He was part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking alongside contemporaries that included Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski.

Born into a Mormon family in Ogden, Utah, Ashby's parents divorced in 1936, and when he was 12 his father un-alived himself. After dropping out of high school at 17, he hitchhiked to L.A. for a fresh start. Finding a printing press job at Universal Studios, Ashby gradually worked his way into film editing at other studios, and was friends with a messenger named Jack Nicholson while at MGM. Eventually he moved up to full editor status while working with director Norman Jewison, and he won the Academy Award for film editing on In The Heat of the Night (1967).

It was Jewison who encouraged Ashby to try his hand at directing with The Landlord (1970). This led to a series of successful and often critically-acclaimed films during that decade, including Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1975), Coming Home (1978), and Being There (1979). In the 1980s, Ashby's career entered a tailspin as he became increasingly combative with executives at Lorimar who financed his production company Northstar. He gradually became unemployable due in part to his heavy cocaine use, and collapsed while filming Let's Spend the Night Together (1983), one of six films he completed that decade.

Ashby was diagnosed in 1988 with pancreatic cancer that quickly spread to other organs, and died at his home in Malibu at the age of 59. His life ended like his career: too soon and under-appreciated.


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