William Oliver Stone (born September 15, 1946) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer and veteran. Stone came to public prominence between the mid-1980s and the early 1990s for writing and directing a series of films about the Vietnam War, in which he had participated as an infantry soldier. Many of Stone's films focus on contemporary and controversial American political and cultural issues, such as JFK, Natural Born Killers, and Nixon.
Stone's films often combine different camera and film formats within a single scene as evidenced in JFK, Natural Born Killers, and Nixon. British newspaper The Guardian has described Stone as "one of the few committed men of the left working in mainstream American cinema." Stone has received three Academy Awards for his work on the films Midnight Express, Platoon, and Born on the Fourth of July. He was presented with the Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award at the 2007 Austin Film Festival.
Stone was born in New York City, the son of Jacqueline (née Goddet) and Louis Stone, a stockbroker. He grew up in Manhattan and Stamford, Connecticut. His father was a non-practicing Jew, and his French-born mother was a non-practicing Roman Catholic. Stone was raised in the Episcopal Church, and now practices Buddhism. Stone attended Trinity School in New York City before his parents sent him away to The Hill School, a college-preparatory school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. His parents were divorced abruptly while he was away at school (1962) and this, because he was an only child, marked him deeply. Stone's mother was often absent and his father made a big impact on his life; father-son relationships were to feature heavily in Stone's films. He often spent parts of his summer vacations with his maternal grandparents in France, both in Paris and la Ferté-sous-Jouarre in eastern France. Stone also worked at 17 in the Paris mercantile exchange in sugar and cocoa -- a job that proved inspirational to Stone for his film Wall Street. He speaks French fluently. Stone graduated from The Hill School in 1964.
Stone was admitted into Yale University, but left after a year to teach high school students at the Free Pacific Institute in South Vietnam. Stone taught for six months, after which he worked as a wiper on a United States Merchant Marine ship, traveling to Oregon. He returned to Yale, where he dropped out a second time (in part due to working on an autobiographical novel A Child's Night Dream, published 1997 by St. Martin's Press). In April 1967, Stone enlisted in the United States Army, requesting combat duty in Vietnam. He served from September 1967 through November 1968 with the 25th Infantry Division, then with the First Cavalry Division, earning a Bronze Star with "V" device for heroism in ground combat; he was wounded twice and received a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster. He also received the Air Medal for participating in more than 25 helicopter combat assaults and the Army Commendation Medal.
Writing and directing career:
Stone graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in film in 1971, where among his teachers was director Martin Scorsese (the same year, he had a small acting role in comedy The Battle of Love's Return). Stone made a short, well received 12 minute film Last Year in Viet Nam. He worked as a taxi driver, film production assistant, messenger, and salesman before making his mark in film as a scriptwriter in the late 70s, in the period between his first two films as a director: horror films Seizure and The Hand.
In 1979, Stone won his first Academy Award, after adapting true-life jail tale Midnight Express into a hit film for British director Alan Parker (the two would later collaborate on a 1996 movie of stage musical Evita). Stone's screenplay for Midnight Express was criticized by some for its inaccuracies in portraying the events described in the book and vilifying the Turkish people. The original author, Billy Hayes, around whom the film is set, spoke out against the film, protesting that he had many Turkish friends while in jail. Stone later apologized to Turkey for over-dramatizing the script, while not repudiating the film's stark brutality or the reality of Turkish prisons.
Stone wrote further features, including Al Pacino's drug lord tale Scarface and Year of the Dragon with Mickey Rourke, before his career took off as a writer-director in 1986. Stone has either written or co-written most of the films he has directed. In 1986, Stone directed two films back to back: the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Salvador, shot largely in Mexico, and his long in development Vietnam project Platoon, shot in the Philippines. Stone loosely based Scarface on his own addiction to cocaine, which he successfully kicked while writing the screenplay.
Platoon brought Stone's name to a much wider audience. It also finally kickstarted a busy directing career, which saw him making nine films over the next decade. Alongside some negative reaction, Platoon won many rave reviews (Roger Ebert later called it the ninth best film of the 1980s), large audiences, and Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. In 2007, a film industry vote ranked it at number 83 in an American Film Institute "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies" poll of the previous century's best American movies. British TV channel Channel 4 voted Platoon as the sixth greatest war film ever made.
Platoon was the first of three films Stone has made about the Vietnam War: the others were Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven & Earth, each dealing with different aspects of the war. Platoon is a semi-autobiographical film about Stone's experience in combat; Born on the Fourth of July is based on the autobiography of US marine turned peace campaigner Ron Kovic; Heaven & Earth is based on the memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, in which Le Ly Hayslip recalls her life as a Vietnamese village girl drastically affected by the war and who finds another life in the USA.
Stone also directed the acclaimed Wall Street, which won Michael Douglas an Academy Award for Best Actor as a ruthless Wall Street corporate raider, and Talk Radio, based on Eric Bogosian's Pulitzer-nominated play.
The Doors, released in 1991, received criticism from former Doors member Ray Manzarek (keyboardist-bass player) during a question and answer session at Indiana University East (in Richmond, Indiana), in 1997. During the discussion, Manzarek stated that he sat down with Stone about The Doors and Jim Morrison for over 12 hours. Patricia Kennealy Morrison - a well known rock critic and author -- was a consultant on the movie, in which she also has a cameo appearance, but she writes in her memoir Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison (Dutton, 1992) that Stone ignored everything she told him and proceeded with his own version of events. From the moment the movie was released, she blasted it as untruthful and inaccurate. The other surviving former members of the band, John Densmore and Robby Krieger, also cooperated with the filming of Doors, but Krieger distanced himself from the work before the film's release. However, Densmore thought highly of the film, and in fact celebrated its DVD release on a panel with Oliver Stone.
During this same period, Stone directed one of his most ambitious, controversial and successful films to date, JFK, that depicts the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. In 1991, Stone showed JFK to Congress on Capitol Hill, which helped lead to passage of the Assassination Materials Disclosure Act of 1992. The Assassination Records Review Board (created by Congress to end the secrecy surrounding Kennedy's assassination) discussed the film, including Stone's observation at the end of the film, about the dangers inherent in government secrecy. Stone published an annotated version of the screenplay, in which he cites references for his claims, shortly after the film's release.
I make my films like you're going to die if you miss the next minute. You better not go get popcorn.
1994 saw the release of Stone's satire of the modern media, Natural Born Killers. Originally based on a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, critics recognized its portrayal of violence and the intended satire on the media. Before it was released, the MPAA gave the film a NC-17 rating; this caused Stone to cut four minutes of film footage in order to obtain an R rating (he eventually released the unrated version on VHS and DVD in 2001).
Stone went on to direct the 1995 Richard Nixon biopic Nixon, which was nominated for Oscars for script and Anthony Hopkins' portrait of the title role. Stone followed Nixon with the 1997 road movie/film noir, U Turn and 1999's Any Given Sunday, a film about power struggles within and without an American football team.
After a period from 1986-1999 where Stone released a new film at least every 1-2 years, Stone slowed down in the 2000s, though still finding some success. In 2004, Stone directed the critically savaged Alexander. He later radically re-edited his biopic of Alexander the Great into a two-part, 3 hour 37 minute film Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, which became one of the highest-selling catalog items from Warner Bros. After Alexander, Stone went on to direct World Trade Center, based on the true story of two PAPD policemen who were trapped in the rubble and later survived after the September 11 attacks.
In 2007, Stone was intended to direct his fourth Vietnam War film Pinkville, about a Pentagon investigation into the My Lai Massacre of Vietnamese civilians. The film was to have been made for United Artists, but the company officially cancelled the production start due to the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike. Shortly after the strike, Stone went on to write and direct the George W. Bush biopic W., that chronicles the controversial President's childhood, relationship with his father, struggles with his alcoholism, rediscovery of his Christian faith, and continues the rest of his life up until the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In 2010, Stone returned to the theme of Wall Street for the sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. More recently, Stone directed Savages, based on a novel by Don Winslow.
Stone made three documentaries on Fidel Castro: Comandante (2003), Looking for Fidel, and Castro in Winter (2012). He made Persona Non Grata, a documentary on Israeli-Palestinian relations, interviewing several notable figures of Israel, including Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Shimon Peres, as well as Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In 2009, Stone completed a feature length documentary, South of the Border about the rise of progressive, leftist governments in Latin America, featuring seven presidents: Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Ecuador's Correa, Cuba's Raúl Castro, the Kirchners of Argentina, Brazil's Lula da Silva, and Paraguay's Lugo (all of whom hold negative views of US manipulations in South America). Stone hoped the film would get the Western world to rethink socialist policies in South America, particularly as it was being applied by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. Chávez joined Stone for the premiere of the documentary at the Venice International Film Festival in September 2009. Stone defended his decision not to interview Chávez's opponents, stating that oppositional statements and TV clips were scattered through the documentary and that the documentary was an attempt to right a balance of heavily negative coverage. He praised Chávez as a leader of a movement for social transformation in Latin America (The Bolivarian Revolution), along with the six other Presidents in the film. The documentary was also released in several cities in the United States and Europe in the summer of 2010.
In 2012, the documentary miniseries Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States premiered on Showtime, Stone co-wrote, directed, produced, and narrated the series, having worked on it since 2008 with co-writers American University historian Peter J. Kuznick and British screenwriter Matt Graham. The 10-part series is supplemented by a 750-page companion book of the same name, also written by Stone and Kuznick, released on October 30, 2012 by Simon & Schuster. Stone described the project as "the most ambitious thing I've ever done. Certainly in documentary form, and perhaps in fiction, feature form." The project received positive reviews from Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev,The Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, and reviewers from IndieWire,San Francisco Chronicle, and Newsday.Hudson Institute adjunct fellow historian Ronald Radosh accused the series of historical revisionism, while journalist Michael C. Moynihan accused the book of "moral equivalence" and said nothing within the book was "untold" previously. Stone defended the program's accuracy to TV host Tavis Smiley by saying "This has been fact checked by corporate fact checkers, by our own fact checkers, and fact checkers hired by Showtime. It's been thoroughly vetted...these are facts, our interpretation may be different than orthodox, but it definitely holds up."
In 1993, Stone produced a miniseries for ABC Television called Wild Palms. In a cameo, Stone appears on a television in the show discussing how the theories in his film JFK had been proven correct (the series took place in a hypothetical future, 2007). That same year, he also spoofed himself in the comedy hit Dave, espousing a conspiracy theory about the President's replacement by a near-identical double. In 1997, Stone published A Child's Night Dream (St. Martin's Press), a semiautobiographical novel first written in 1966-1967.
In 2008, Stone was named the Artistic Director of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Singapore.
Stone married three times, first to Najwa Sarkis on May 22, 1971. They divorced in 1977. He then married Elizabeth Burkit Cox, an assistant in film production, on June 7, 1981. They had two sons, Sean Stone/Ali (b. 1984) and Michael Jack (b. 1991). Sean appeared in some of his father's films while a child. Oliver and Elizabeth divorced in 1993. Stone is currently married to Sun-jung Jung, and the couple have a daughter, Tara (b. 1995).
Stone is mentioned in Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Lawrence Wright's book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief as having been a member of Scientology for about a month, saying "It was like going to college and reading Dale Carnegie, something you do to find yourself." In 1997, Stone was one of 34 celebrities to sign an open letter to then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, published as a newspaper advertisement in the International Herald Tribune, which protested against the treatment of Scientologists in Germany and compared it to the Nazis' oppression of Jews in the 1930s. In 2003, Stone was a signatory of the third Humanist Manifesto.
In 1999, Stone was arrested and pleaded guilty to alcohol and drug charges. He was ordered into a rehabilitation program. He was arrested again on the night of May 27, 2005 in Los Angeles for possession of an undisclosed illegal drug. On May 27, 2005, Stone was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of drugs. He was released the next day on a $15,000 bond. In August 2005, Stone pled no contest and was fined $100.
Stone has had an interest in Latin America since the 1980s when he made his 1986 film Salvador and later returned to make his documentary South of the Border about the left-leaning movements that had been taking hold in the region. He has expressed the view that these movements are a positive step toward political and economic autonomy for the region.
Stone was there in 2007 making his documentary during Operation Emmanuel, third-party international negotiations that Venezuela's then president Hugo Chávez had proposed and set up with the Colombian revolutionary guerrilla group FARC involving the release of three hostages held for over six years as part of the humanitarian exchange affair. Chávez's plan was supported by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, France, Ecuador and Bolivia, as well as the Red Cross which also participated in the operation. In the days before the 2007 New Year's Eve, the Venezuelan government had arranged for the release of high-profile hostages held by FARC in the Colombian jungle, but the mission failed, and Stone blamed the Colombian government and the United States for the fiasco.
In a January 2008 interview with The Observer, given shortly after these events, Stone expressed support for Colombian group FARC and said: "I do think that by the standards of Western civilization they (FARC) go too far; they kidnap innocent people. On the other hand, they're fighting a desperate battle against highly financed, American-supported forces who have been terrorizing the countryside for years and kill most of the people. FARC is fighting back as best it can and grabbing hostages is the fashion in which they can finance themselves and try to achieve their goals, which are difficult. They're a peasant army; I see them as a Zapata-like army. I think they are heroic to fight for what they believe in and die for it, as was Castro in the hills of Cuba."
US Presidential politics:
According to Newsmeat and Entertainment Weekly respectively, Stone voted for Barack Obama as U.S. president in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, instead of John McCain and Mitt Romney, the GOP candidates for the presidency. Stone was quoted as saying at the time: "I voted for Obama because...I think he's an intelligent individual I think he responds to difficulties well...very bright guy...far better choice yes." In 2012, Stone endorsed Ron Paul for the Republican nomination for President. He said that Paul is "the only one of anybody who's saying anything intelligent about the future of the world." then later: "I supported Ron Paul in the Republican primary... but his domestic policy... made no sense!"
Iran and Israel:
In an interview with The Times newspaper on July 25, 2010, Stone claimed that America does not know "the full story" on Iran and complained about Jewish "domination" in parts of the US media and foreign policy. When Stone was asked why so much of an emphasis has been placed on the Holocaust, as opposed to the 20-plus million casualties the Soviet Union, for example, suffered in World War II, he stated that in Washington American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was an overly powerful Jewish lobby within the US. The remarks were heavily criticized by Jewish groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, (where Yuri Eidelstein described his remarks as what "could be a sequel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,") and the American Jewish Committee, as well as from Israel's Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister.
Stone a day later, stated: "In trying to make a broader historical point about the range of atrocities the Germans committed against many people, I made a clumsy association about the Holocaust, for which I am sorry and I regret. Jews obviously do not control media or any other industry. The fact that the Holocaust is still a very important, vivid and current matter today is, in fact, a great credit to the very hard work of a broad coalition of people committed to the remembrance of this atrocity -- and it was an atrocity."
Two days later, Stone issued a second apology to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which was accepted. "I believe he now understands the issues and where he was wrong, and this puts an end to the matter," said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman.
Oliver Stone is a vocal supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Stone signed a petition in support of Assange's bid for political asylum in June 2012. In August 2012, he penned a New York Times op-ed with filmmaker Michael Moore on the importance of WikiLeaks and free speech. Stone visited Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in April 2013 and commented, "I don't think most people in the US realize how important WikiLeaks is and why Julian's case needs support." He also criticized two upcoming WikiLeaks films from Alex Gibney and Bill Condon.
In June 2013, Stone and numerous other celebrities appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning.
Academy Award nominations
Academy Award wins
Golden Globe nominations
Golden Globe wins
Born on the Fourth of July
Heaven & Earth
Natural Born Killers
Any Given Sunday
Looking for Fidel
World Trade Center
South of the Border
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
The Battle of Love's Return (1971),
Platoon (1986) (cameo),
Wall Street (cameo) (1987),
The Doors (1991) (cameo),
Dave (cameo) (1993),
Any Given Sunday (1999),
Torrente 3: El Protector (cameo) (2005),
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (cameo) (2010),
Greystone Park (actor) (2011),
End the War on Animals (narrator, PETA video) (2012),
Midnight Express (1978),
Conan the Barbarian (with John Milius) (1982),
Year of the Dragon (with Michael Cimino) (1985),
8 Million Ways to Die (with David Lee Henry) (1985),
Evita (with Alan Parker) (1996),
Producer/executive producer only:
Sugar Cookies (1973),
Blue Steel (1989),
Reversal of Fortune (1990),
South Central (1992),
Wild Palms (1993) (TV),
The Joy Luck Club (1993),
The New Age (1994),
Indictment: The McMartin Trial (1995) (TV),
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996),
Cold Around the Heart (1996),
Killer: A Journal of Murder (1996),
The Last Days of Kennedy and King (1998),
The Corruptor (1999),
The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001) (TV),
Hamburg, Eric. Nixon: An Oliver Stone Film. Hyperion Books. ISBN 0-7868-8157-7,
Riordan, James. Stone: The Biography. (1996),
Stone, Oliver. JFK: The Book of the Film. Applause Books. ISBN 1-55783-127-0,
Salewicz, Chris. Oliver Stone: the making of his movies. Orion. ISBN 0-7528-1820-1,
Stone, Oliver. "A Child's Night Dream".