Anthony Powell, a three-time Oscar winner whose costume design helped bring Indiana Jones to a rough life and Broadway’s Norma Desmond to an extravagant excess, died Sunday. He was 85 years old.
The Costume Designers Guild 892 confirmed the news on Monday night on their official Facebook page. “The legendary English costume designer Anthony Powell passed away last weekend. It is being celebrated in a small private gathering due to COVID restrictions and is survived by two nieces, “they said. “Anthony Powell’s passion for his work and for his friends was limitless. The Costume Designers Guild extends our condolences to everyone who has enjoyed the pleasure of his company and his unforgettable designs. “
Powell, who won a Tony Award for 1963 School for Scandal costumes, won the 1978 Oscars for Death on the Nile and 1979 for Tess. He had received his first Oscar for designing the costumes for Maggie Smith’s eccentric Augusta in George Cukor’s Travels with My Aunt (1972).
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He also received Oscar nominations for Pirates (1986), Hook (1991) and 102 Dalmatians (2000) and received the 2000 Career Achievement Award from the Costume Designers Guild.
With a career stretching from the 1960s to the 21st century, Powell has designed costumes for stars like Angela Lansbury, Glenn Close, Lauren Bacall, Paul Newman, Bette Davis, Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman and Roger Moore, Harrison Ford, Peter Ustinov, Johnny Depp, Mia Farrow, Betty Buckley and Elaine Page, among many others.
A selection of the directors Powell has worked with include Cukor, Roman Polanski, Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman, David Lean and Elaine May. His costumes have appeared in films as diverse as Tess, Death on the Nile and Papillon, as well as the quirky comedies Ishtar and the 1996 live action 101 Dalmatians.
For the latter he created the decadently sumptuous clothing of Close’s Cruella de Vil; The two would reunite in 2017, when Close starred as Norma Desmond in the Broadway re-enactment of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.
Powell was born on June 2, 1935 in the suburbs of Manchester, England. After graduating from London’s Central School of Art and Design, Powell trained as an assistant to designers such as the great Cecil Beaton. In 1963 he received his first grand prize – a Tony for John Gielgud’s Broadway production of The School for Scandal – and began a long film career in 1969 with director Irving Lerner’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun.
His Hollywood career began with an Oscar win for Travels with My Aunt in 1972, and the next year he brought back Papillon’s Devil’s Island penalty cloths starring McQueen and Hoffman.
By the end of the decade, he designed costumes for Altman’s Western Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or for Sitting Bull’s history lesson, William Friedkin’s Wizard, Anthony Shaffer’s Death on the Nile, and Polanski’s Tess, and won Oscars for the latter two.
The 1980s brought another glittering mystery from Agatha Christie in Evil Under the Sun, the soon-to-be-iconic Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He designed the sun-drenched desert gown of the infamous Warren Beatty-Dustin Hoffman flop Ishtar in 1987 and went on to the whim of Spielberg’s Hook in 1991 and received another Oscar nomination.
Subsequent film credits include 101 Dalmatians (1996), The Avengers (1998), The Ninth Gate (1999), 102 Dalmatians (2000, Oscar nomination), and Miss Potter, the 2006 Beatrix Potter biopic starring Renée Zellweger.
For the stage, Powell is best known for his gorgeous Sunset Boulevard costumes, which combined the styles of the 1950s musical and the eccentricity of the delusional turban heroine Norma Desmond from the silent movie era. Powell designed the costumes for the original 1994 Broadway production, the 2017 revival, and the West End productions. His Normas included Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley, Elaine Page, and Glenn Close.
Further reactions to his death can be found below.
Very sad to hear of the death of @TheTonyAwards @BAFTA and the three-time # Oscar winner #AnthonyPowell who I was lucky enough to work with on @OfficialALW #SunsetBoulevard here in the UK and on Broadway. pic.twitter.com/uuojSOy2Dm
– Elaine Paige (@elaine_paige) April 18, 2021
I am very sorry to hear that the great costume designer #AnthonyPowell has passed away. I have been blessed to work with him three times for the film “Frantic” in Paris and “Sunset Blvd”. in London and on Broadway. What a brilliant man. #TonyAwards #BAFTA and three-time # Oscar winner. #REST IN PEACE
– Betty Buckley (@BettyBuckley) April 18, 2021
One of the most beautiful clothes I have ever been allowed to wear. Designed by the great Anthony Powell. https://t.co/TGVaL2m8qQ
– Betty Buckley (@BettyBuckley) April 19, 2021