Once dubbed the West Coast Woody Allen for his cerebral brand of comedy, actor-writer-director Albert Brooks once turned down the Billy Crystal role in "When Harry Met Sally. .." (1989) precisely because it read like a Woody Allen movie - a comparison he assiduously avoided. After receiving his start in show business as a stand-up comedian - a route he also wished to avoid - Brooks finally achieved his dream of becoming an actor when he made his first foray into features with a prominent supporting role in "Taxi Driver" (1976). He made his biggest contribution to movies as director, helming his first film, "Real Life" (1978), which many critics lauded as being the first and one of the best mocumentaries ever made. Returning to the director's chair following a sprinkling of small roles on the big screen, Brooks helmed the romantic comedy, "Modern Romance" (1981), before directing "Lost in America" (1985), his sharp satiric look at American materialism that many considered to be his finest work behind the camera. His best work in front of the lens came with "Broadcast News" (1987), playing a sympathetic news reporter - a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination. He returned to directing with the philosophical and funny "Defending Your Life" (1991), before helming the more underwhelming "Mother" (1996) and "The Muse" (1999). Though his output diminished in later years, including only one film as director in the new millennium - "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" (2005) - Brooks nonetheless remained one of the most gifted and prolific comedic actors of his generation.