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Director John Avildsen dies at 81; won Oscar for 'Rocky'

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- John G. Avildsen, who directed "Rocky" and "The Karate Kid," the hugely successful underdog fables that went on to become Hollywood franchises, has died at age 81.

Avildsen's son Anthony says his father died Friday in Los Angeles from pancreatic cancer.

Avildsen took a chance on "Rocky," written by and starring the then-unknown Sylvester Stallone as a struggling boxer. The 1976 film became a phenomenon that won Oscars for best picture as well as for Avildsen as director.

"The Karate Kid" was another surprise hit. The 1984 film told the story of a teen who learns about self-confidence through the study of karate. Avildsen directed both "Karate Kid" sequels but only one of the five Rocky sequels.