Director John Schlesinger dies at 77 LOS ANGELES (AP) — John Schlesinger, whose Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy and thrillers like The Falcon and the Snowman explored lonely underdogs in modern society, died Friday. He was 77. The British-born filmmaker had a debilitating stroke in December 2000, and his condition deteriorated significantly in recent weeks. He was taken off life support at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs on Thursday and died early Friday, hospital spokeswoman Eva Saltonstall said. Doctors took Schlesinger off life support on Thursday. "He did pass this morning," she said, declining any further information. Schlesinger broke ground with 1969's Midnight Cowboy, which starred Jon Voight as a naive Texan who turns to prostitution to survive in New York and Dustin Hoffman as the scuzzy, ailing vagrant Ratso Rizzo. The film's homosexual theme was regarded as scandalous, but the tale of underdogs trying to survive in a merciless metropolis was embraced by critics and Hollywood despite its shocking sequences. Based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy, Midnight Cowboy was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three — best director, best picture and best adapted screenplay. It was the only X-rated film ever to win the Oscar for best picture; reflecting changing standards, the rating was later lowered to an "R." The stocky, baldheaded filmmaker — who was gay — said in 1970: "I'm only interested in one thing — that is tolerance. I'm terribly concerned about people and the limitation of freedom. It's important to get people to care a little for someone else. That's why I'm more interested in the failures of this world than the successes." After Midnight Cowboy he explored homosexuality again in his next project with 1971's Sunday Bloody Sunday, which starred Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson as acquaintances who each reluctantly share a love for the same young man. The director received another Oscar nomination for the film. The characters in Schlesinger's films often struggled with their place in the world, and he depicted them as lonely, disenchanted and sometimes forgotten. In 1975, he directed an adaptation of the Nathanael West novel The Day of the Locust, about young wannabe-stars who find only disappointment in Hollywood. Schlesinger himself felt an estrangement from his own success. "If I've ever had any commercial success, it's been a total fluke. I wouldn't have known Midnight Cowboy would have done so well," Schlesinger said in 1990.