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Acclaimed screenwriter Nora Ephron dead at 71

  • This Sept. 5, 2009, file photo shows U.S. director Nora Ephron during the photocall for the movie "Julie and Julia" directed by Ephron at the 35th American Film Festival in Deauville, northwestern France. AFP PHOTO / Files / MYCHELE DANIAU

LOS ANGELES: Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nora Ephron, known for romantic comedies "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle," as well as books and essays, has died in New York after battling leukemia. She was 71.

Ephron, who had suffered from acute myeloid leukemia, died on Tuesday evening at New York's Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center surrounded by her family, they said in a statement.

Reactions poured in from around the arts and entertainment community for the screenwriter who delighted millions with her flair for comedy, romance and the ability to tackle serious subjects with insight.

"She brought an awful lot of people a tremendous amount of joy. She will be sorely missed," her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called her death "a devastating one" for the city's arts and cultural community, and the Los Angeles-based Directors Guild of America called her "an inspiration for women filmmakers when there were few."

Writer and actress Carrie Fisher called Ephron "inspiring, intimidating, and insightful" and actor Martin Landau said she was "able to accomplish everything she set her mind to with great style."

Ephron, who often parlayed her own love life into movies like "Heartburn" and gave her acerbic take on aging in the 2010 essay collection, "I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections," had kept her illness largely private except for close friends and family.

"At some point, your luck is going to run out ... You are very aware with friends getting sick that it can end in a second," Ephron told Reuters in a 2010 interview while promoting the book.

The elegant Ephron, known for habitually dressing in black, urged aging friends and readers to make the most of their lives.

"You should eat delicious things while you can still eat them, go to wonderful places while you still can ... and not have evenings where you say to yourself, 'What am I doing here? Why am I here? I am bored witless!'" she told Reuters.

She began her career as a journalist but transitioned into movies, leaving behind a legacy of more than a dozen films, often featuring strong female characters, that she either wrote, produced or directed. She was nominated for three Academy Awards for "Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle" and the drama "Silkwood" in which Meryl Streep played an anti-nuclear activist.

Other romantic comedies included "You've Got Mail," starring Meg Ryan, and her last film "Julie & Julia" in 2009, which had Streep portraying the fearless celebrity cook Julia Child.

Ephron also wrote for the stage, authoring the 2002 play "Imaginary Friends" about the rivalry of authors Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman, and "Love, Loss and What I Wore," with her sister Delia, in 2009.

Born May 19, 1941 in New York City and raised in Beverly Hills by screenwriter parents, Ephron worked briefly as a White House intern before going into journalism. She quickly became known as a humorist with essays on subjects ranging from food and fashion to feminism.

She started in the entertainment industry while married to her second husband, The Washington Post's famed Watergate investigative reporter Carl Bernstein.

She helped rewrite a version of the script for the movie "All The President's Men," about Bernstein and Bob Woodward's uncovering of the political scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. Although that screenplay was not used, it led to a TV movie screenwriting job for Ephron.

Her big movie break came after a messy divorce from Bernstein, which was the genesis for her 1983 novel "Heartburn" that she later adapted into the bittersweet hit film of the same name starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

That film ushered in a string of box office successes in the late 1980s and 1990s, including "When Harry Met Sally," "Michael" with John Travolta, "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail," that saw Ephron gradually add producer and director to her resume and become one of Hollywood's most successful makers of romantic comedies.

Although her movies raked in tens of millions of dollars at box offices worldwide, Ephron never won the industry's highest honor, an Academy Award.

After box office flops "Hanging Up" and "Lucky Numbers" in 2000, Ephron focused on essays, writing for the stage, and blogging for the online news site The Huffington Post.

Her humorous 2006 collection "I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman" became a bestseller on the New York Times list.

At the time of her death, Ephron had a biographical movie about singer Peggy Lee in development that was due to star Reese Witherspoon, according to the Internet movie website, IMDB.com.

Ephron was married three times and is survived by her husband of more than 20 years, writer Nicholas Pileggi, and two children with Bernstein.

 
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