Assi Dayan, Israeli filmmaker and actor, dies at 68

Assi Dayan in 2009; the Israeli cultural icon who was known for both his trailblazing films and troubled personal life died Thursday in Tel Aviv.
(Associated Press)

Assi Dayan, a celebrated Israeli filmmaker, actor and cultural icon, died in Tel Aviv on Thursday, his family said. He was 68.

The same year that his father, legendary military leader Moshe Dayan, led Israeli forces to swift triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War, Dayan began his career in film. He played 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 directed 16 films and starred in dozens more. Many of his works became classics 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 insight 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’s television roles included 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, who was born Nov. 23, 1945, in Nahalal, Palestine, did not conform; he 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 autobiographical 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.

Besides his sister, a former politician and author, Dayan’s survivors include a brother, Udi (Ehud), a sculptor; and four children. He is also survived by his 97-year-old mother, Ruth Dayan. His father died in 1981.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.