Nora Ephron dies at 71
Journalist, author, playwright, filmmaker, and three-time Oscar nominee Nora Ephron passed away Tuesday night at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, after a battle with acute myeloid leukemia. “She brought an awful lot of people a tremendous amount of joy,” said publisher Alfred A. Knopf in a statement. She was 71.
The seeds for Ephron’s trailblazing career as a pop-culture polymath arguably began soon after her birth in New York City in 1941. She was the first of four daughters to Henry and Pheobe Ephron, who were successful screenwriters for films like Carousel and There’s No Business Like Show Business. They based their play Take Her, She’s Mine on their eldest daughter’s experiences in college. (It was adapted into a feature film starring Jimmy Stewart and Sandra Dee in the Nora Ephron role.)
After graduating from Wellesley, Ephron became one of the leading female voices of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s, writing for the New York Post, The New York Times Magazine, New York, and Esquire. Her second marriage, to famed Washington Post Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, helped launch her move into screenwriting after she worked with her husband to rewrite William Goldman’s script for All the President’s Men. That script was never used, but it ultimately led to a gig co-writing the 1983 Meryl Streep docudrama Silkwood, and Ephron’s first Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.
Ephron turned her acrimonious divorce from Bernstein into the novel Heartburn, which she adapted for the 1986 film of the same name, starring Streep and Jack Nicholson. But it was her script for Rob Reiner’s megahit 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally… that vaulted Ephron into the top tier of feature screenwriters (and won her second Oscar nod). Recognizing her rare place as a powerful woman in Hollywood, Ephron followed up the film with her directorial debut, 1992’s This Is My Life, starring Julie Kavner as a struggling stand-up comic and co-written with her sister Delia, a regular collaborator. The film flopped, but Ephron’s next film as a director, 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, was a massive hit, grossing $228 million worldwide and earning Ephron her third Oscar nomination.
Along with re-teaming Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for You’ve Got Mail, Ephron went on to work with Steve Martin (in Mixed Nuts), John Travolta (in Michael and Lucky Numbers), Nicole Kidman (in the ill-fated Bewitched), and Meryl Streep again, in Ephron’s last film, 2009’s Julie & Julia. In the final decade of her life, Ephron branched out beyond filmmaking, penning Broadway plays and blogging for the Huffington Post. Her latest project reflected her lifelong interest in telling the stories of real people: Lucky Guy, a play about the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mike McAlary, recently announced as Tom Hanks’ Broadway debut.
Ephron is survived by her husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi, and her sons Jacob and Max Bernstein. In a statement, her family requested that donations can be made in her honor to The Public Theater and The Motion Picture and Television Fund.
This post has been updated to reflect the official statement from Knopf.