Melissa Mathison, the screenwriter of films including E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Black Stallion, and the upcoming The BFG, died Wednesday in Los Angeles from complications of neuroendocrine cancer. She was 65.
Her sister Melinda Johnson confirmed the news to EW.
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Mathison earned an Oscar nomination for her original screenplay for 1982’s E.T., on which she worked closely with director Steven Spielberg to develop. The story of a boy who befriends a kindhearted alien trying to return to his home planet became a huge critical and commercial hit, and it has come to be regarded as one of Spielberg’s signature films.
In a 2012 New Yorker article about E.T., Mathison said the collaboration was “entirely imaginative. Steven and I shared our imagination on this story; we both brought our own memories and strengths.”
In a statement expressing his condolences, Spielberg said, “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”
Mathison and Spielberg recently reunited on The BFG, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book about an orphan girl who teams up with a benevolent giant to save the world. The film is scheduled to open next summer.
A native of Los Angeles, Mathison was born to Richard Mathison, a journalist, and Pegeen Kieffer Mathison, a writer, publicist, and food entrepreneur. Mathison graduated from UC Berkeley before breaking into Hollywood in 1979 with The Black Stallion, an adaptation of the classic children’s novel about a boy who tames a wild Arabian horse.
Her other credits include The Escape Artist, Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Indian in the Cupboard, and Kundun.
Mathison was married to actor Harrison Ford from 1983 to 2004, and they had two children together, Malcolm Carswell Ford, and Georgia Ford.