'Genius' behind Pink Panther films, Blake Edwards, dies at 88

Film director Blake Edwards has died in California at the age of 88.

Edwards, married to actress and singer Julie Andrews, died from complications of pneumonia on Wednesday morning at St John's Health Centre in Santa Monica.

His wife and other family members were at his side, said his publicist Gene Schwam.

Edwards directed many films including Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Pink Panther. He was also a screenwriter, producer and actor.

Knee problems, for which he had undergone unsuccessful surgery, had left him "pretty much confined to a wheelchair for the last year-and-a-half or two," Mr Schwam said but he continued to work.

And at the time of his death, Edwards was working on two Broadway musicals, one based on the Pink Panther movies. The other, Big Rosemary, was to have been an original comedy set during Prohibition.

"His heart was as big as his talent. He was an Academy Award winner in all respects," said Mr Schwam, who knew him for 40 years.

Actor Robert Wagner credited Edwards with giving him some of the greatest opportunities of his career. "There won't be anybody passing by like him again. He was a genius," Wagner said.

"Personally, we were so very close friends and he was so kind to me throughout my entire life."

Steve Martin expressed his thoughts on Twitter: "Blake Edwards was one of the people who made me love comedy. Sorry to hear of his passing."

A third-generation film-maker, Edwards was praised for evoking classic performances from Jack Lemmon, Audrey Hepburn, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Lee Remick and Andrews, his wife of nearly half a century.

He directed and often wrote a wide variety of movies including Days of Wine and Roses, a harrowing story of alcoholism; The Great Race, a comedy-adventure that starred Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood; and Victor/Victoria, his gender-bender musical comedy with Andrews.

He was also known for an independent spirit that brought clashes with studio bosses. He vented his disdain for the Hollywood system in his 1981 black comedy, S.O.B.

"I was certainly getting back at some of the producers of my life," he once remarked, "although I was a good deal less scathing than I could have been. The only way I got to make it was because of the huge success of 10, and even then they tried to sabotage it".