Assi Dayan, a celebrated Israeli filmmaker, actor and cultural icon, died in Tel Aviv on Thursday, local media reported. He was 68.
The same year his father, legendary military leader Moshe Dayan, led Israeli forces to swift triumph in the 1967 war, Dayan began his career in film playing Uri, the embodiment of the new emerging sabra, or Jewish people born in Israel, in the film based on Moshe Shamir’s novel “He Walked Through the Fields.”
Dayan created 16 films and starred in dozens more. Much of his work became classic cornerstones of Israeli film and culture, such as the 1976 cult movie "Givat Halfon Doesn’t Answer," a spoof on Israeli army reservists in a forsaken post in the Sinai desert -- a far cry from the stoic, heroic image of Uri.
Other movies offered peeks into pockets of Israeli society with a painful candor and nihilistic touch, such as "Life According to Agfa," another seminal work of Israeli film. Increasingly, his work depicted various political and social fault lines in the country’s mainstream narrative.
Dayan also turned to television, portraying, among other roles, a psychologist in "B’Tipul," the Israeli series on which HBO’s “In Treatment” was based.
In Israeli terms, the Dayans held near-aristocratic status, with several members of the extended family holding key positions in government and the military over the years.
Dayan himself did not conform and was irreverent and rebellious. His personal life was tumultuous, with multiple marriages, and his battle with substance abuse was a matter of public record, as evident in the recent autobiographic miniseries “Life As a Rumor.”
His sister Yael Dayan told Israel Radio that the night before his death had been “another night with Ritalin,” which she said he used in excess around the clock, despite family members' desperate attempts to intervene. However, she said, “he was not suicidal, his creativity was far more powerful” than any abuse issues.
The family would ask for an autopsy to determine the cause of death, she said.
An outpouring of tributes to Dayan came from Israeli actors, public figures and fans following news of his death. “This is a terrible loss for us all, not only for Israeli film but all Israeli culture,” veteran actress Gila Almagor said.
Dayan is survived by his sister, a former political and author; brother Udi (Ehud), a sculptor; and 4 children. He is also survived by his mother Ruth Dayan, 97.
The funeral is to be held Sunday.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.
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