For much of his career, Milius has been a polarizing figure in his own industry, though not always for the reasons many have tried to assign. Popular culture has often imagined him in simplistic terms - the lone "conservative" in supposedly "liberal" Hollywood. You'll seldom hear him call himself "conservative," though; he tends to prefer cryptic descriptions like "Zen Fascist." And while he's happy to play up his anachronistic modern-cowboy image - frequently photographed chomping a cigar, a rifle resting on his shoulder - he stands as a reminder that one can be a public figure and a proud member of the NRA without also becoming a grumbling talking head on cable news. If nothing else, he maintains a sense of humor about his persona: He's friends with the Coen Brothers, who used him as the inspiration for the character Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski.


When he learned that his health would bar him from his dream of warrior glory, Milius was already a film student, an active member of the USC Film School crowd that would produce the so-called "movie brat" generation of filmmakers. His list of friends and associates in those halcyon days reads like a who's who of present-day Hollywood royalty: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and of course Milius' close friend and mentor, Francis Ford Coppola.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind's essential book chronicling the rise of the movie brats, depicts him as a standout personality even among these larger-than-life figures, the gun-slinging "muscle" of the outfit, the Wolverine among film-student X-Men not only in friendship but also in professional collaboration. You've heard his signature grandiose, bombastic dialogue leap - often uncredited - from the mouths of everyone from Dirty Harry to Jeremiah Johnson to Jack Ryan. And while other filmmakers of their generation dismissed or even excoriated Spielberg and Lucas for wasting their early promise on "silly" killer shark and space war movies, Milius was among their proponents. He's also responsible for Quint's "Indianapolis speech" in Jaws, and has been referenced as helping turn Lucas on to the Samurai ethos that plays such a big part in Star Wars.

His greatest triumph in that early period was also a moment of professional frustration. He wrote the original screenplay for Coppola's Apocalypse Now, but was angered to learn that the finished film changed his ending and, in doing so, espoused a much different point than he had intended. In Milius' version, the characters' realization that the only way to victory in Vietnam would be to embrace a primal, inhuman warrior ethos was akin to a moment of clarity - in Coppola's finished film, that same realization becomes a descent into madness. Either way, the film is an all-time classic, and many have pointed to the warring personalities of Milius vs. Coppola being the special ingredient that energizes the proceedings.

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