THE PLAYER; Hollywood Movie Genius Robert Altman Dies at 81

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Byline: By PETE SAMSON

LEGENDARY Hollywood film director Robert Altman has died at the age of 81.

Altman passed away at a Los Angeles Hospital on Monday night, his production company, Sandcastles 5, announced yesterday.

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Altman made a career out of bucking US movie trends - and was well known for his biting attacks on the American way of life.

He was nominated five times for the best director Oscar - for M*A*S*H in 1970, Nashville (1975), The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993) and Gosford Park (2001) - he never won the top honour.

However, he did win the best director Golden Globe for Gosford Park and was given an honorary Oscar this year for "a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form".

Actor Kevin Spacey, artistic director of London's Old Vic theatre - where Altman directed Resurrection Blues in February - said he had been "privileged" to work with him. He added: "Robert Altman was a truly unique director and an extraordinary man."

Actor Elliot Gould, who starred in M*A*S*H, said Altman's legacy would "nurture and inspire filmmakers and artists for generations to come".

M*A*S*H was Altman's first major success - a black comedy set in an army hospital during the Korean War. But Altman used it to make a thinly-veiled political attack on US involvement in Vietnam

Gould paid tribute: "Robert was the last great American director in the tradition of John Ford. …