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He was a wealthy, educated man who often mocked those just like him, never more memorably than in The Graduate, which shot Dustin Hoffman to fame in the 1967 story of an earnest young man rebelling against his elders' expectations.
But young people laughed hard when a family friend advised Benjamin that the road to success was paved with 'plastics' or at Benjamin's lament that he felt like life was 'some kind of game, but the rules don't make any sense to me.
Actors never gave him less than their personal best - and then Mike would get from them even more.
And in a room full of people, Mike was always the center of gravity.
The visionary director had never stopped working throughout his long career and was in the middle of a new project for HBO, adapting Terrence Mc Nally's Tony Award-winning play Master Class about opera legend Maria Callas.
Meryl Streep, who was currently working with Nichols on the show, said in a statement: 'An inspiration and joy to know, a director who cried when he laughed, a friend without whom, well, we can't imagine our world, an indelible irreplaceable man.': 'Mike was a friend, a muse, a mentor, one of America's all time greatest film and stage directors, and one of the most generous people I have ever known.
For me, The Graduate was life altering - both as an experience at the movies as well as a master class about how to stage a scene.
Mike had a brilliant cinematic eye and uncanny hearing for keeping scenes ironic and real.
Whoopi Goldberg wept on talkshow The View on Thursday as she remembered her close friend Mike Nichols.
The director launched her career, when he presented a then unknown Whoopi in her own one-woman show on Broadway Meryl Streep with Angels in America director Mike Nichols and fellow cast member Al Pacino backstage at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in 2004.
', an unusually tame comedy for Nichols that starred Garry Shandling and Annette Bening.