The family will hold a private service this week; a memorial will be held at a later date.
During a career spanning more than 50 years, Nichols, who was married to ABC’s Diane Sawyer, managed to be an insider and outsider, an occasional White House guest and friend to countless celebrities who was as likely to satirise the elite as he was to mingle with them.
A former stand-up performer who began his career in a groundbreaking comedy duo with Elaine May and whose work brought him an Academy Award, a Grammy and multiple Tony and Emmy honours, Nichols had a remarkable gift for mixing edgy humour and dusky drama.
Meryl Streep, whose films for Nichols included Silkwood and Heartburn, said he was “an inspiration and joy to know, a director who cried when he laughed ... an indelible, irreplaceable man.”
And Tom Hanks, who starred in Nichols’s Charlie Wilson’s War, quoted him as saying, “Forward! We must always move forward. Otherwise, what will become of us?”
His 1966 film debut Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? unforgettably captured the vicious yet sparkling and sly dialogue of Edward Albee’s play, as a couple (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) torment each other over deep-seated guilt.
Angels in America,” the 2003 TV miniseries adapted from the stage sensation, blended rich pathos and whimsy in its portrait of people coping with AIDS and looking to the heavens for compassion they found lacking in Ronald Reagan’s 1980s America.
Nichols, who won directing Emmyäs for Angels in America and Wit, said he liked stories about the real lives of real people and that humour inevitably pervades even the bleakest of such tales. He was a wealthy, educated man who often mocked those like him, never more than in The Graduate, which shot Dustin Hoffman to fame in the 1967 film.
Nichols won the best director Oscar for The Graduate.