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British filmmaker Michael Winner dies at 77

"Death Wish" director Michael Winner, a British filmmaker, restaurant critic and bon vivant, has died at the age of 77.

His wife, Geraldine, said he died Monday at his London home after an illness.

Winner's 30 movies included three "Death Wish" films, starring the late Charles Bronson.

Born in London in 1935, Winner worked with Hollywood icons including Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum and Faye Dunaway -- although many of his films sit at the schlockier end of the spectrum.

Michael Winner with Charles Bronson while filming "Death Wish." Paramount

One of his earliest films was the 1962 nudist feature "Some Like It Cool"; later he specialized in thrillers and action movies, including "The Mechanic," ''Scorpio" and the violent vigilante "Death Wish" series of the 1970s and '80s.

Winner never took criticism of his films too seriously.

"If you want art, don't mess about with movies," he once said. "Buy a Picasso."

He had a second career as restaurant critic with the "Winners Dinners" column in the Sunday Times newspaper. His acerbic verdicts got him barred from some eateries, and his highest praise was to declare a meal "historic."

In later years he was famous for a series of insurance ads with the catchphrase "Calm down, dear!" Prime Minister David Cameron once used the phrase to a female lawmaker in the House of Commons, prompting howls of outrage.

He also founded and helped fund a campaign to erect a London memorial to police officers killed in the line of duty.

Winner had experienced health problems since getting a bacterial infection from bad oysters in 2007.

He wrote his final column in December, but refused to say goodbye forever.

"Who knows, after Christmas I might make a comeback," he wrote. "How many times did Sinatra do it?"

His wife, a former dancer who married Winner two years ago, said he was "a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous. A light has gone out in my life."