Director and Academy Award nominated screenwriter Nora Ephron, who wrote some of the sharpest and funniest romantic comedies of the 1980s and 1990s, died June 26 after a battle with leukemia. She was 71.
Ephron’s intelligent dialogue and relatable scenarios made her one of the most bankable screenwriters at her peak. Her script for When Harry Met Sally…, which starred Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in the tale of two close friends who take forever to realize they’re perfect for each other, was an incisive look at modern love that influenced scores of romantic comedies to come.
Born in New York City in 1941, Ephron began her professional life as a journalist, and her witty longform pieces for the New York Times, New York magazine, and Esquire put her squarely within the “New Journalism” movement of the 1960s and 1970s. But it was her marriage to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein that gave Ephron her first shot at screenwriting, when she and her husband collaborated on an ultimately unused rewrite of William Goldman’s script for All the President’s Men (in which Dustin Hoffman played Bernstein). Silkwood, Ephron’s first original script, was based on the life and mysterious death of a nuclear-plant whistleblower and earned Ephron her first Oscar nomination in 1983.
Ephron’s novel Heartburn, based on her acrimonious divorce from Bernstein, was a bestseller, and she adapted it to the screen in 1986. Her next script, When Harry Met Sally…, earned Ephron another Oscar nod and made her one of Hollywood’s most sought-after screenwriters. In 1993, she directed Sleepless in Seattle, which garnered a third Academy Award nom and generated huge box office numbers.
Following 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, which reunited Sleepless in Seattle co-stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Ephron worked less frequently; her last credit was the script for 2009’s Julie & Julia, another critical and commercial success.
Ephron was married three times. She is survived by her husband, author and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, and two sons from her marriage to Bernstein.