Ken Russell Ken Russell

Ken Russell, the avant-garde filmmaker behind Women in Love and The Boy Friend, has died. He was 84.

Russell died Sunday following multiple strokes, his son Alex Verney-Elliott told The Associated Press. "My father died peacefully. He died with a smile on his face," he said.

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Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell was born in Southampton, England. He moved to London in his 20s, studied photography and became a documentary filmmaker at the BBC. His first feature film was the 1964 romantic comedy French Dressing. In 1967, he directed the spy movie Billion Dollar Brain with Michael Caine. Russell earned his first Academy Award nomination for his 1969 film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love. The film, which was censored for featuring full-frontal nudity from its two male leads, won star Glenda Jackson an Oscar for Best Actress.

Music was also a big influence on Russell's films. In 1971, he wrote and directed The Boy Friend, an homage to the musicals of the 1930s. The movie starred supermodel Twiggy, who won two Golden Globes for her performance. Russell also adapted the rock opera Tommy, which was based on music from The Who.

In 1991, Russell directed his last controversial film titled Whore, which received an NC-17 rating.

Russell — whose films included 1980's Altered States and 1987's Gothic — was honored in 1995 by the American Cinematheque with a retrospective of his work called Shock Value. His sometimes over-the-top films could be polarizing, and provoked Pauline Kael to say they "cheapen everything they touch."

More recently, Russell appeared on the British reality show Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, but left within the first week.

Russell, who was married four times, is survived by his wife Elise Tribble and his children.