2019 American Music Awards

Mel Stuart, Directed 'Wattstax,' 'Willy Wonka', Dead at 83

Mel Stuart, who documented in soulful style the legendary Wattstax music festival and brought to life Roald Dahl's musical fantasy "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," died Thursday night of cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He was 83.

The surrealist cult classic, about an eccentric chocolatier and a poor child named Charlie Bucket, was released in 1971 and starred Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.

The story goes that it was Stuart's daughter Madeline who asked him to make Dahl's book into a movie. "Daddy, I want you to make this into a movie!" he recalled her saying, according to an interview in 2010. It was decided early on that it would be musical and many of the songs, "The Candy Man," "Pure Imagination," and the "Oompa Loompa" theme have all become classics.

The songs, composed by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, and musical direction by Walter Scharf, earned the film an Academy Award nomination for original score.

In 1973, Stuart directed the groundbreaking film "Wattstax," which documented the music festival of the same name, as well as Los Angeles' Watts neighborhood. The film was shot at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and includes performances by Stax Records hitmakers the Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas and Isaac Hayes, as well as interviews with Watts locals and celebrities like Lionel Richie and Melvin Van Peebles.

The film earned a best documentary nomination at the 1974 Golden Globes.

Stuart attended New York University, where he set aside his early aspirations to be a composer in favor of a career in filmmaking. His best known documentaries include "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the Oscar-nominated "Four Days in November" and "The Making of the President 1960," for which he won an Emmy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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