Oscar-winning documentarian Leon Gast dies at 85

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Filmmaker Leon Gast, whose documentary When We Were Kings won an Academy Award, died Monday at age 85.

Gast's death was announced by his friend Meira Blaustein in a Facebook post.

"He was a giant of a filmmaker, an absolute joy of a human being, and a very dear and beloved friend," wrote Blaustein, the co-founder of the Woodstock Film Festival. "I am so grateful that I got to visit with him yesterday, tell him how much I loved him, how much he meant to all of us. I only wish I had stayed longer. My heart is with his family."

When We Were Kings chronicled Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's famous "Rumble in the Jungle" 1974 heavyweight championship boxing match. It took Gast 22 years to edit and finance the documentary, which covers not only the athletes themselves but the energy surrounding the event in Zaire, including fight promoter Don King and the "Black Woodstock" soul music festival that accompanied the fight. When We Were Kings was named best documentary feature at the 1997 Oscars.

Gast was born in Jersey City, N.J., in 1936 and studied dramatic arts at Columbia University. A recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the Golden Door International Film Festival, he was also a still photographer who designed album covers for Latin music group Fania All-Stars.

Gast's other documentaries include the motorcycle club doc Hell's Angels Forever and Manny, which follows the career of legendary boxer Manny Pacquiao. Gast also co-directed The Grateful Dead Movie with Jerry Garcia.

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