Veteran Israeli filmmaker Menahem Golan dies at 85

ARON HELLER Associated Press Published:

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- Menahem Golan, a veteran Israeli filmmaker who built an empire on the back of brawny men beating others senseless across a host of 1980s action films, has died in Tel Aviv. He was 85.

Throughout his long career, Golan produced more than 200 movies and directed a fourth of them. But while others attended the Cannes film festival in tuxedoes, Golan wore rainbow-colored suspenders over his T-shirts and proudly hawked a different type of fare.

It was the 1987 film "Bloodsport" that he produced that introduced American audiences to the face -- and kicks -- of a then-unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme. He produced Sylvester Stallone's take as a stone-faced cop in "Cobra" and later directed him as a truck-driving arm-wrestler in "Over The Top." And he produced Charles Bronson's "Death Wish" -- sequels two through five.

"Schlock is entertainment for the masses," he told The Associated Press in 1985. "It's fantasy. Storytelling without challenging the mind too much."

Golan, who died Friday, is survived by his wife and three children.

Born in pre-state Israel as Menahem Globus, Golan was a pilot and bombardier in Israel's War of Independence in 1948 and got an Oscar nomination for his film "Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt," about the daring 1976 Israeli commando raid to rescue hostages held at an airport in Uganda. The only Israeli soldier killed in the operation was the commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit Yonatan Netanyahu, the older brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Along with his cousin and partner Yoram Globus, he established The Cannon Group production company, running it for a decade and turning it into a major force in international film production and distribution. The Golan-Globus films earned a reputation for being low-budget, high-violence movies in which tough guys blast away terrorists.

"The Delta Force," perhaps the most famous film Golan directed and produced, also was inspired by real-life events, based on the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jet to Beirut. Lee Marvin, in his last film, starred as Col. Nick Alexander, who leads a daring rescue mission against Arab terrorists to free a commandeered plane.

Chuck Norris, who also starred in "Delta Force" and the Golan-produced "Missing in Action" and its sequels, paid tribute to the filmmaker.

"Menahem's faith in me as an actor was the real reason for the breakthrough of my movie career," Norris told the Israeli YNet news site.

In Israel, Golan was a trailblazer who brought major films to the country and put it on the Hollywood map. Culture Minister Limor Livnat eulogized his as "Mr. Cinema."

"Golan was a colorful and special person who will forever be remembered in Israeli culture as one who cultivated Israeli actors and was, and always will be, a cinematic hero," she said.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Cairo contributed to this report.

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