Avildsen had been suffering pancreatic cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his son, Anthony, said by phone.
Rocky - starring Sylvester Stallone as a rags-to-riches boxer - became the highest grossing film of 1976, despite having a relatively low budget.
"Throughout the decades, his rousing portrayals of victory, courage and emotion captured the hearts of generations of Americans", said Paris Barclay, president of the Directors Guild of America, of the late director in a statement. And although anyone would be fortunate to have made such a fantastic motion picture, even once in their lives, Rocky has perhaps overshadowed numerous filmmaker's other great accomplishments.
"Rest In Peace John Avildsen", wrote Hollywood actor Joe Manganiello. He later returned to the franchise in 1990 to direct Rocky V.
Avildsen is survived by a daughter, Bridget, and sons Anthony, Jonathan and Ashley.
WRAPUP 3-Weak US consumer prices, retail sales put spotlight on Fed
The monthly core CPI was restrained by decreases in the prices of apparel, airline fares, communication and medical care services. The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, rose 0.1 per cent in May after a similar gain in April.
In 1983 he was Oscar nominated again, this time for the documentary short "Traveling Hopefully".
Avildsen was born on December 21, 1935, in Oak Park, Ill. He left quite a nice legacy of films including "The Karate Kid", "Lean on Me", the original "Neighbors" with Aykroyd and Belushi.
This was followed by another critical success of his career, "Save the Tiger", which bagged three nominations at the 46th Academy Awards, winning best actor for its lead Jack Lemmon.
"I owe just about everything to John Avildsen".
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