British film director Michael Winner, who made the violent thriller "Death Wish" and become a restaurant critic in later life, has died at the age of 77, his wife said on Monday.

Winner had been ill for some time and after a spell in hospital last year died at his home in the upscale west London district of Kensington, Geraldine Winner said in a statement.

"Michael was a wonderful man, brilliant, funny and generous. A light has gone out in my life," said his wife, who married Winner two years ago but had known him for half a century.

Winner's film career spanned more than 50 years and he worked with major stars including Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum and Faye Dunaway.

But his biggest hit remained "Death Wish", in which a liberal architect played by late actor Charles Bronson becomes a vigilante following the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter. He also directed two sequels.

In later years Winner reinvented himself as a restaurant critic for the Sunday Times newspaper.

His weekly column "Winner's Dinners" invariably featured a photograph of Winner posing with restaurant staff or his famous friends in exotic locations, alongside his outspoken opinions on the food.

Winner also became something of a cult figure after his catchphrase in a television advertisement for car insurance -- "Calm down, dear" -- was used by Prime Minister David Cameron in reference to a female opponent in parliament.

But he also took part in charitable work and established a memorial trust for police officers following the murder of female police constable Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.

Until November last year he was also a frequent user of Twitter, on which he described himself as "a totally insane film director, writer, producer, silk shirt cleaner, bad tempered, totally ridiculous example of humanity in deep shit."

His health declined in recent years after he acquired a bacterial infection from an oyster in Barbados in 2007 and he was admitted to hospital in late 2011 with food poisoning from steak tartare.

In 2012 he said in an interview with The Times that he had carried out research into the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland regarding assisted suicide after liver specialists said he had as little as 18 months to live.

"I'm very happy to snuff it. I've had enough time on earth. I'd be happy if someone gave me the plug to pull," he said.