George P. Cosmatos, 64; Director Was Known for Saving Troubled Projects

Times Staff Writer

George P. Cosmatos, the director of such hit films as the 1985 “Rambo: First Blood Part II” starring Sylvester Stallone and the 1993 “Tombstone” starring Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell, has died. He was 64.

Cosmatos died last week in Victoria, Canada, where he had lived for the last 24 years. Fellow director Richard Donner told Victoria’s Times Colonist newspaper Friday that Cosmatos had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. Cosmatos lost his sight in late 2003 after surgery to remove a cyst above his eyes.

As a director, Cosmatos amassed a relatively short list of film credits, yet developed a reputation for his ability to handle complex action shoots and aerial photography and for turning around troubled projects. Trained in Europe, he nevertheless mastered the Hollywood action genre.


“My pictures appeal all round the world,” he once said. “I do slick American pictures with a European sensitivity.”

The chain-smoking, cigar-chomping Cosmatos was as unfazed by criticism of violence in “Rambo” as he was by directing Stallone, who then was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. The director, who also worked with Stallone on “Cobra,” praised him in 1986 as an intellectual with “the vulnerability of Robert Mitchum and the strength of John Wayne.”

Cosmatos insisted at the height of the violence controversy that “there is no blood, no gore in ‘Rambo II,’ ” which featured Stallone as a combat veteran returning to Vietnam as a one-man army rescuing American soldiers missing in action.

“It’s a psychological release for people,” Cosmatos told the Times Colonist, “to have a hero who can do the fighting and dirty work while we eat our popcorn.”

Cosmatos showed his well-known fix-it ability when “Tombstone” executive producer Andrew G. Vajna hired him to replace director Kevin Jarre at the movie’s Arizona shoot.

Cosmatos reworked the film about legendary Western lawman Wyatt Earp and turned it into a success.


“He did everything that was expected of him, and he did it well,” John Fasano, the film’s associate producer, told the Times Colonist.

Although Cosmatos loved the 1940s-era American movies he saw as a boy in his native Italy, he never planned on a film career until he met filmmaker Otto Preminger during a summer vacation on Crete.

Preminger hired him as assistant director for “Exodus” and Cosmatos never looked back.

After working for NBC in Europe, he made his own feature film directing debut with the 1971 “Restless,” which he also wrote and co-produced. He came to prominence with 1973’s “Massacre in Rome” starring Richard Burton and Marcello Mastroianni.

Cosmatos hit his stride with 1977’s “The Cassandra Crossing” starring Richard Harris, Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.

Other films he directed include “Escape to Athena,” “Of Unknown Origin,” “Leviathan” and “Shadow Conspiracy.”

Gruff, blunt and often politically incorrect in manner, Cosmatos spoke six languages and collected antiques and rare books, letters and manuscripts.

Born in Florence and brought up in Egypt and Cyprus, he studied international affairs at University College in London and graduated from London Film School.

Before settling in Victoria, which he called “my resting place,” he had lived in London, Sweden, Guadalajara and Los Angeles.

Cosmatos’ wife, Swedish sculptress Birgitta Ljungberg, died of cancer in 1997.

He is survived by their son, Panos, and a brother, Memos.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Canadian Cancer Society.