Film-maker Sydney Pollack died of cancer in Los Angeles on Monday, aged 73.

He had been diagnosed with cancer about 10 months ago.

The Oscar winner was a director, producer and actor; his best-known films include Out Of Africa, The Way We Were, Three Days Of The Condor, Tootsie and They Shoot Horses, Don't They.

He was the founder, with the late Anthony Minghella, of production company Mirage Enterprises.

Pollack's last films as a director were 2005 UN thriller The Interpreter and 2006 documentary Sketches Of Frank Gehry. His final acting roles were in films including Michael Clayton and the current release Made Of Honor.

'It seems to me like a miracle,' Pollack used to say when asked just how he transformed himself from a small-town Indiana boy into one one of the most influential producer-directors in Hollywood.

Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana, the son of a pharmacist. Pollack's father had been an accomplished, semi-professional boxer who had paid his way through college by fighting for a company called Hoosier Beer. He had dreamed of becoming a doctor but didn't have enough money to pay the full college fees - and so became a pharmacist instead.

The young Sydney also took boxing lessons but was hampered by poor eyesight. ('I didn't see well enough to box. I didn't see the punches until they were too close.') Aged 17, Sydney left high school in Indiana. 'I didn't know why I didn't like where I was but I didn't like it. I was just missing something but I didn't have any idea of what it was,' he reflected on his midwestern upringing. His father dreamed of him becoming a dentist or doctor, but Sydney had other ideas.

With money he had saved up, he headed to New York hoping to make his fortune. 'I'd just seen the city in movies. I got on the train and went soon as I had got off the train, I knew I had made the right choice. As soon as I walked down the street, I felt that I was at least at the centre of something.'

Pollack's big break came when he was accepted at an acting school run by Sanford Meisner. He credited Meisner, who later took him on as an assistant, as one of his key formative influences. 'I sat in on all of Meisner's classes. What I was really doing without knowing it was learning a kind of basis for directing.'

John Frankenheimer lured him out to Los Angeles to work as a coach for the child actors on Frankenheimer's first big feature, The Young Savages. This put him in the orbit of another of his great champions, the actor Burt Lancaster. Thanks to Lancaster, Pollack ended up directing (uncredited) several sequences on the John Cheever adaptation, The Swimmer, one of Lancaster's boldest and most idiosyncratic films. Lancaster also introduced him to agent and studio boss, Lew Wasserman, who gave Pollack some of his first directorial assignments in Hollywood.

Like his close friend Anthony Minghella, with whom he was a partner in Mirage, Pollack was a humanist: a director who worked on a big canvas but whose best work remained rooted in craft, character and emotion.

Pollack made several films with his close friend Robert Redford. 'He has been particularly interesting to me because of his complexity. He has this golden boy exterior but there's something very dark inside which comes out in his performances,' Pollack said of Redford with whom he collaborated on such films as Three Days Of The Condor, Jeremiah Johnson and The Way We Were.

He was versatile, too. The director's career included comedies (Tootsie), epic weepies (Out Of Africa) and dark, Depression-era dramas (They Shoot Horses, Don't They'). He was also much in demand as a character actor, excelling as sinister lawyers or shady moguls in films like Eyes Wide Shut and Changing Lanes.

Tributes poured in from those who worked with Pollack. Sally Field, who acted in his Absence Of Malice, said: 'Having the opportunity to know Sydney and work with him was a great gift in my life. He was a good friend and a phenomenal director and I will cherish every moment that I ever spent with him.'

Working Title head paid tribute to Pollack and warned that Pollack's death, following so soon after that of his business partner Anthony Minghella, could have a damaging effect on the UK industry.

'He (Pollack) was a great producer and he was a great producer alongside Anthony Minghella. It's a great tragedy for British film and film generally that Anthony went and now Sydney has gone. It's a terrible double whammy,' Bevan said.

Bevan noted Pollack's qualities as a producer. 'He wouldn't take bullshit. He was ruthless on script and material - and he was a great editor.'

Pollack had been in ill health for some time. 'When Anthony (Minghella) died, everyone thought they had got the wrong name,' Bevan said. 'That was very unexpected. Anthony had known that Sydney was extremely ill and had spent the last year of his own life as it transpired being with Sydney - it was a terrible irony that he (Minghella) died first.'

Among the many recent films from British directors that Mirage has supported is Stephen Daldry's forthcoming The Reader and Minghella's Breaking and Entering (2006).

Working Title produced Pollack's final dramatic feature, The Interpreter (2005).