Milos Forman, a filmmaker who challenged Hollywood with his subversive touch and twice directed movies that won the Oscar for best picture, died on Friday in a hospital in Danbury, Conn. He was 86.
His death was confirmed by Dennis Aspland, Mr. Forman’s agent. No cause was given. Mr. Forman lived in northwest Connecticut, in Warren.
Mr. Forman came to the United States from what was then Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s as a rebellious young filmmaker whose satirical bent had been little welcomed at home in the wake of the 1968 Soviet invasion.
Just a few years later, Mr. Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s tragicomic novel of revolt and repression in a mental institution — won five Oscars, including those for best director and best picture.
The film put Mr. Forman in the front rank of directors who struggled to make big, commercial films with countercultural sensibilities. His sympathy for the odd man out was always apparent, even as his movies grew in scope.
“Amadeus,” a 1984 adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s stage play, presented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a genius who undermined authority with his art. Again, Oscars for best director and best picture were among its many honors.
Still, Mr. Forman, by then a United States citizen, said one of his greatest pleasures from the film — which was shot in the Czech Republic — had been the chance to return in triumph to his Communist-controlled homeland.
“I’ve always done everything in my life to win,” he said of himself in “Turnaround: A Memoir” (1994), written with Jan Novak.
Mr. Forman was caught up in the turmoil of occupation not many years after his birth on Feb. 18, 1932, in Caslav, Czechoslovakia. As a boy he witnessed Germany’s invasion in 1939.
Both his mother, born Anna Suabova, and the man he believed to be his father, a teacher named Rudolf Forman, were separately seized by the Germans and killed in death camps.
For years, Mr. Forman vaguely told interviewers that he believed himself to be half-Jewish, though both parents attended a Protestant church. It was his co-writer, Mr. Novak, in researching “Turnaround,” who ended the mystery.
After the 1964 release of his first feature film, “Black Peter” — about the misadventures of a teenager beginning his work life — Mr. Forman was contacted by a woman who had been with his mother in Auschwitz, Mr. Novak learned. The woman explained that Mr. Forman was actually the son of a Jewish architect with whom Mr. Forman’s mother had had an affair. Mr. Forman eventually found his biological father, who had survived the war and was living in Peru.
Reared by foster parents, Mr. Forman attended film school in Prague. He made his mark with a film and theater presentation at the 1958 Brussels World Exhibition. An early feature, “The Loves of a Blonde,” won attention on the international festival circuit in 1965.
Another film two years later, “The Firemen’s Ball,” rubbed Czech officials the wrong way with its spoof of the firefighting bureaucracy. By then, though, Mr. Forman was turning to opportunities abroad.
When the Soviet Union invaded in August 1968, Mr. Forman was in Paris negotiating to make a Hollywood film. That movie, his first American feature, a youth comedy called “Taking Off,” was released by Universal Pictures in 1971. It did so poorly, Mr. Forman said, that he wound up owing the studio $500.
Through the early 1970s, Mr. Forman — a hearty bon vivant without means for the good life at the time — went through a period of self-described depression. For much of that time he holed up in the storied Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, sleeping through the days and communicating with émigré friends.
By then he had been married twice, first to an actress, Jana Brejchova, then to another performer, Vera Kresadlova, who had remained in Czechoslovakia with their two sons, Petr and Matej.
In addition to those sons, he is survived by Martina Formanova, his third wife; and his twin sons, James and Andrew, with Ms. Formanova.
In his memoir, Mr. Forman said the producers of “Cuckoo’s Nest,” Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, sought him out because “I seemed to be in their price range.” In fact, they had made a prudent match between filmmaker and material, the Kesey novel.
Jack Nicholson was the movie’s star. But Mr. Forman — who liked to coax star performances out of lesser-known actors — did exactly that with Louise Fletcher, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the dictatorial Nurse Ratched.
“Hair,” a 1979 adaptation of the counterculture Broadway musical, and “Ragtime,” which came next, in 1981, a film version of the E. L. Doctorow novel, with James Cagney, left less impression. But they kept Mr. Forman on the list of directors whom executives were willing to trust with more sophisticated projects.
In 1978, Mr. Forman joined Frantisek Daniel, another Czech, as co-director of the film program at Columbia University’s school of the arts.
It was for Mr. Zaentz that Mr. Forman next struck gold, with “Amadeus.” The film won eight Oscars; besides the ones for best picture and best director, F. Murray Abraham won the best actor award. (Tom Hulce, as the title character, was nominated for that prize.)
But the film left Mr. Forman with a bittersweet, and ultimately correct, sense that his career had peaked, he wrote.
In 1989, five years after “Amadeus,” Mr. Forman released “Valmont,” a costume drama, starring Colin Firth and Annette Bening, based on an 18th-century novel by Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos. But it was overshadowed by the previous year’s release of the better-received “Dangerous Liaisons,” a film by Stephen Frears with Glenn Close and John Malkovich that used the same underlying material.
Mr. Forman next made a series of films that pushed Hollywood out of its comfort zone.
“The People vs. Larry Flynt” pressed the limits of tolerance for an antihero with its sympathetic portrait of the Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. Released by Columbia Pictures in 1996, it was a box-office bust, with domestic ticket sales of only about $20 million.
In 1999, “Man on the Moon,” Mr. Forman’s complex portrait of the comic Andy Kaufman, did only a little better for Universal Pictures.
Shortly before its release, he married Martina Zborilova, who had worked with him as a production assistant. They named their twin sons after Mr. Kaufman and Jim Carrey, the movie’s star.
Mr. Forman’s next film, “Goya’s Ghosts,” for Samuel Goldwyn Films, was an intricate portrait of the artist during an era of Napoleonic conquest and religious persecution in Spain. The film, starring Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman, found a minuscule audience when it was released on American screens in 2007.
But it appeared to play out themes from Mr. Forman’s life, as its heroine, an artist’s model, is imprisoned and tortured because of what were claimed to be her hidden Jewish roots and habits.
In an interview with The Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Mr. Forman talked of Goya’s vacillation between unfettered expression and a desire to please in terms that recalled a tension between his own artistic urges and the lure of success.
“Torn between protest and preservation,” Mr. Forman said of Goya, “he is the most courageous coward.”