Tributes have been paid to the “unique” talent of British film director Ken Russell, following his sudden death at the age of 84.
The director of Women In Love and The Devils “passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday afternoon”, his “devastated” wife Elize said.
The Oscar-nominated film-maker, who began his career in television, had a reputation as an enfant terrible of the British movie world.
Women In Love (1969) is known to a generation for its nude male wrestling scene, with Oliver Reed and Alan Bates.
Glenda Jackson, who won a best actress Oscar for her role in the film, said it was a “privilege” to know Russell as both a film director and a friend.
She said Russell had an “incredible visual genius”, “a passion” and “a third eye” when it came to film-making.
“His contribution to cinema, not only in this country, but also internationally, will last,” she said.
But the MP, who also starred in Russell’s The Rainbow (1989) and The Music Lovers (1970), said he had not been given the recognition he deserved in later years.
“It’s an absolute shame that the British film industry has ignored him. It’s an absolute disgrace… he broke down barriers for so many people,” she said.
The maverick film-maker was known for his uncomfortable stories about the church and for using sexually challenging material.
The Devils, initially featuring a scene with naked nuns, was banned by some authorities in the UK and in many other countries.
Film director Michael Winner said Russell would be best remembered for the 1971 movie, starring Vanessa Redgrave.
“What the censor took out of The Devils was almost as long as the rest of the movie,” he said.
Russell, he said, “was the most innovative director”, adding: “His television was in a field of its own, it was absolutely extraordinary.”
He said: “His contribution to TV and cinema in this country is absolutely unique. He took it into areas it hadn’t been before.
“They were riveting movies and TV because this strange mind was at work.”
Russell’s widow Elize said she was “devastated” by her husband’s death, which happened at their home in Lymington, Hampshire.
She said: “It is with great sadness that I can confirm that Ken Russell passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday afternoon.
“It was completely unexpected, as he was doing what he loved.”
She said Russell had been working on the script and casting for the movie Alice In Wonderland The Musical, which he was directing.
“I am in the process of informing his extended family who are, like me, devastated at Ken’s passing,” she said.
The film-maker first gained a reputation while directing for BBC arts programme Monitor. He is still revered for a programme about Edward Elgar which did much to revive the composer’s music.
On the bi -screen he followed up the notoriety of Women In Love with films such as The Music Lovers and Valentino.
In 1971 he won huge acclaim for his adaptation of the Broadway hit The Boy Friend – a 1920s musical pastiche – casting model Twiggy in the lead role.
Four years later he brought to life The Who’s rock opera Tommy with a star-studded cast including Reed, Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner and Sir Elton John.
But as time went on his budgets became more modest, although he continued to use familiar themes of sex and religion in movies such as The Lair Of The White Worm, which gave an early break to Hugh Grant.
In 2006 he and Elize, Russell’s fourth wife, lost their home, belongings, and work on a number of his projects in a fire at their 16th century cottage, which happened while she was in the bath.
Russell made an unlikely appearance in Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, although he left in a matter of days.
He became fascinated by film as a child in Southampton, but went on to study at nautical college, then entered the merchant navy.
After the Second World War he trained as a dancer and toured for many years until he decided his talents lay elsewhere.
He landed a best director Oscar nomination for his work on Women In Love, as well as being shortlisted for a Bafta and Golden Globe for the film, adapted from DH Lawrence’s novel.
Joely Richardson, who starred as Lady Chatterley opposite Sean Bean in Russell’s 1993 BBC TV series Lady Chatterley, another adaptation from a Lawrence novel, was also among those who paid tribute.
“I will forever feel privileged and honoured to have worked with the great Ken Russell,” she said.
“More than that, I was extremely fond of the man himself.”
Actress Amanda Donohoe, who starred in Russell’s The Rainbow and The Lair Of The White Worm, said: “He pushed the boundaries of British cinema to its limits in both comedy and serious drama.
“His work was unique, vibrant and provocative and his influence on contemporary film-makers should never be underestimated.
“A maverick one of a kind, I will always remember him and smile.”
Broadcaster and film critic Jonathan Ross tweeted: “RIP Ken Russell. A film-maker of rare vision and unique talent. Also, a lovely man to spend time with. Sad day.”
Choreographer and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips wrote: “A sad goodbye Ken Russell and thank you for the crazy but extraordinary work I did with you.”
Staff at Swansea Metropolitan University have also paid tribute.
In 2007, the iconic director was invited to Swansea Met’s Centre for Creative Industries as part of its masters’ series.
While at the centre he made what would be one of his last films, Boudica Bites Back.
The film, described by Russell as a Cine-Opera, told the story of Boudica, the Celtic warrior queen and her battle against the Romans.
It was made entirely at Swansea Met in 2007 by Russell working with Swansea Met’s staff and students.
The project centred on the use of the Met’s state-of-the-art Green Screen studio.
The film premiered at the Palic European Film Festival in Serbia, in 2009.
Steve Sullivan, Swansea Met Senior Research Associate and the film’s producer, said: “Ken Russell was a visionary and one of the true geniuses to have worked within the met’s cinema.
His passion for his craft knew no limit and he was an inspiration to any budding filmmaker.
“When I wrote to him and asked if he would possibly come to Swansea Met and meet with our students, he wrote back the same day with a simple ‘Yes please’.”
Russell filmed what is thought to be his final TV interview for Sky Arts earlier this year. The programme is being broadcast this Friday.