‘Heat of the Night,’ ‘Moonstruck’ director Norman Jewison dead at 97

Norman Jewison, the Oscar-nominated director of “In the Heat of the Night” and “Moonstruck” whose half-century career of filmmaking defied categorization, has died at age 97, his publicist said Monday.

The Canadian-born Jewison worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including Steve McQueen, Denzel Washington, Sidney Poitier and Cher.

The singer-turned-actress took to social media to bid farewell to a “Sweet Prince.”

“Thank U For One Of The Greatest, Happiest, Most Fun Experiences Of My Life,” Cher wrote in reference to her Oscar-winning role in “Moonstruck.”

“Without U, I Would Not Have My Beautiful Golden Man.” 

Over an eclectic career he hopped among genres, helming musicals including “Fiddler on the Roof” as well as comedies and romances, but is best known for films tackling weighty social issues.

Jewison began his career in television, but moved to Hollywood in the early 1960s where he teamed up with Tony Curtis for the comedy “40 Pounds of Trouble,” a box office hit.

Two films with Doris Day followed with Jewison tied to Universal, a partnership that also saw him working with James Garner on “The Art of Love.”

Oscar recognition came in 1966 with quirky comedy “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming,” when he scored a nomination for best picture.

But it was with “In the Heat of the Night” that he announced his arrival as a serious auteur, conjuring memorable turns from Oscar-winner Rod Steiger as a racist Southern sheriff playing opposite Poitier.

The film won an Academy Award for best picture, and he was nominated as best director.

Jewison paired up with McQueen for the smash “The Thomas Crown Affair” and then pivoted to a silver-screen version of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which audiences lapped up.

More music was to follow with the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with Joshua Mostel playing the deliciously camp King Herod.

In 1975 he directed James Caan in dystopian action flick “Rollerball” before teaming up with Al Pacino for the dark 1979 comedy “…And Justice for All.”

It was in 1987 that he hit commercial and critical gold with “Moonstruck,” starring Cher and Olympia Dukakis, who both bagged acting Oscars. The film also introduced the world to Nicolas Cage.

The following few years saw projects with Bruce Willis (“In Country”), Robert Downey Jr (“Only You”) and Whoopi Goldberg (“Bogus”).

In 1999 he directed Washington to the Best Actor statuette in “The Hurricane,” a true story of a boxer wrongly accused of murder.

‘Brilliant storyteller’

Jewison was born in Toronto, Canada on July 21, 1926, and made his acting debut at the tender age of five.

He spent time in the Royal Canadian Navy, and earned his bachelor’s degree at University of Toronto’s Victoria College.

A stint as a cab driver underpinned his nascent acting career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Over the following few years, he would write, direct and produce some of Canada’s most popular musicals, dramas, comedy-variety shows and specials for the CBC.

Canada made Jewison an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1982, and a member of the Order of Ontario in 1989. In 1992 he was decorated with the Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award.  

Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Canadian Heritage, wrote on social media that Jewison’s many films resonated with people all over the world.

“Norman Jewison’s films were unique stories because of his special talent,” she said.

The Canadian Film Centre said it was mourning the loss of its founder, a man it called a “brilliant storyteller.”

“Norman was loved for his creative spirit, his infectious energy and his distinct voice,” it said.

“His legacy will live on through his timeless films and the countless individuals and organizations he has inspired, and will continue to inspire, for generations to come.”