As confirmed by a post written by his son on his official website, legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler has died. He was 93 and reportedly “died peacefully in his sleep.”
Wexler was born in Chicago in 1922, and after attending the University Of California, Berkley for a year, he joined the Merchant Marines in World War II. During the war, his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and he was forced to survive in a lifeboat for two weeks—an event that Chaz Ebert says Wexler’s wife attributed his “lifelong fight for justice and world peace” to. After the war, Wexler got into filmmaking and started working on a lot of low-budget short films and documentaries, including the Academy Award-nominated Living City.
He eventually made his way to Hollywood and won the final Best Cinematography Academy Award for a black-and-white film for his work on Micke Nichols’ Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? in 1966. His work on In The Heat Of The Night was also highly regarded, mostly for the special attention he paid to figuring out the film’s lighting. He was also the director of photography on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Bound For Glory, the latter being a Woody Guthrie biopic that earned Wexler another Academy Award.
Wexler’s passion for activism came through in his documentary (and documentary-style) projects, like Who Needs Sleep (which discussed the danger for forcing film crews to work overly long hours) and Medium Cool, a fictional film that utilized footage of the riots outside of the 1968 Democratic Convention that was widely recognized as highly influential and ahead of its time. You can see all of Who Needs Sleep below.
Here’s the statement that Wexler’s son, Jeff Wexler, posted on his father’s website:
It is with great sadness that I have to report that my father, Haskell Wexler, has died. Pop died peacefully in his sleep, Sunday, December 27th, 2015. Accepting the Academy Award in 1967, Pop said: “I hope we can use our art for peace and for love”. An amazing life has ended but his lifelong commitment to fight the good fight, for peace, for all humanity, will carry on.