• Norman Jewison was an acclaimed Canadian director
  • He is best known for 'Moonstruck'
  • HERE is a look at his life and times

Hollywood is mourning the loss of a cinematic giant! Norman Jewison, the legendary filmmaker whose directorial genius brought us Oscar-winning hits like 'In the Heat of the Night,' has passed away at the grand age of 97. His death was confirmed by family spokesman Jeff Sanderson, who respectfully withheld the details of his residence, honoring the family's wish for privacy.

Norman's body of work has inspired millions

The Toronto-born Jewison began acting at age 6, appearing before Masonic lodge gatherings. After graduating from Victoria College, he went to work for the BBC in London, then returned to Canada and directed programs for the CBC.

His work there brought offers from Hollywood and he quickly earned a reputation as a director of TV musicals, with stars including Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte.

Jewison, an icon whose career soared from Canadian TV to the pinnacle of Tinseltown, was a maestro of the silver screen for over half a century. His close pal Sidney Lumet would agree, Norman was a titan when it came to films that dared to confront social dilemmas head-on!

His most acclaimed masterpiece, 'In the Heat of the Night,' struck a chord in 1967, mirroring the racial discord that was tearing through the streets of Detroit and Newark.

This film, a murder mystery set against the backdrop of the American South's racial tensions, showcased the unlikely alliance of a Black detective from Philadelphia and a white Mississippi police chief. The timing? Impeccable! The impact? Unforgettable!

Throughout his long career, Jewison combined light entertainment with topical films that appealed to him on a deeply personal level. As Jewison was ending his military service in the Canadian navy during World War II, he hitchhiked through the American South and had a close-up view of Jim Crow segregation.

In his autobiography 'This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me,' he noted that racism and injustice became his most common themes.

Jewison was a cultural trendsetter

Despite the racial tensions of the time, Jewison was determined to tell his story. Among those who encouraged Jewison while making 'In the Heat of the Night' was Robert F. Kennedy, whom the director met during a ski trip in Sun Valley, Idaho.

"I told him I made films and he asked what kind I make," he recalled in a 2011 interview with 'The Hollywood Reporter'. "So I told him that I was working on ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and that it’s about two cops: one a white sheriff from Mississippi and the other a black detective from Philadelphia. I told him it was a film about tolerance. So he listened and nodded and said ‘You know, Norman, timing is everything. In politics, in art, in life itself.’ I never forgot that."

His other notable films included the Cold War spoof 'The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,' the Steve McQueen thriller 'The Thomas Crown Affair' and a pair of movies featuring Denzel Washington: the racial drama 'A Soldier’s Story' and 'The Hurricane,' starring Denzel Washington as wrongly imprisoned boxer "Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter."

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Jewison's work didn't just entertain; it won laurels and sparked conversations. "In the Heat of the Night" bagged five Academy Awards, including best picture and best actor for Steiger. But that's not all! Jewison's versatility shone through with the big-budget musical "Fiddler on the Roof" and the enchanting romantic comedy "Moonstruck," both of which earned him Oscar nods for best director.

The film industry has indeed lost a beacon of excellence, a storyteller who wasn't afraid to shine a light on the issues that matter. Norman Jewison, your legacy will live on through the timeless classics you've gifted to the world. Lights, camera, legacy!