Movie director Robert Altman, who skewered the folkways and vanities of Music Row in his 1975 movie Nashville, died Monday (Nov. 20) in a Los Angeles hospital at the age of 81. The cause of death has not been announced. Nashville was not, however, Altman's only country music tie-in. He also co-wrote (with Dan Darst) John Anderson's 1983 hit, "Black Sheep," and cast singer Lyle Lovett in the movies The Player, Short Cuts and Pret-a-Porter. Robert Bernard Altman was born Feb. 20, 1925, in Kansas City, Mo. After returning from service in World War II, he became interested in movies, initially as an actor. He spent several years of apprenticeship directing industrial films and television series. His first commercial movie hit came in 1970 with M*A*S*H. More interested in character interaction than plot, Altman formed ensembles of actors and urged them to develop their own characters. In Nashville, those who had singing roles were asked to write their own songs. One of these, actor Keith Carradine's "I'm Easy," won an Academy Award and went to No. 17 on Billboard's pop charts. Although frequently nominated, Altman never won an Academy Award until earlier this year when he was honored with a career-achievement Oscar.