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Writer, Filmmaker Nora Ephron Dies at 71 (Updated)

"When Harry Met Sally…" creator died at 71 of complications from "pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia"


Nora Ephron, the screenwriter and director behind "Sleepless in Seattle," "You've Got Mail" and "Julie & Julia" has died at a hospital in her native New York. She was 71.

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Reports began circulating Tuesday afternoon that Ephron — whose robust career spanned screenwriting, filmmaking, book-writing, playwriting and reporting — was near death after gossip columnist Liz Smith published a post, which has since been taken down, eulogizing her longtime friend.  

Her son Jacob Bernstein told the New York Times on Tuesday evening that she had died of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia.

Also read: Nora Ephron: From 'When Harry Met Sally' to 'Julie & Julia,' Her True Genius Was for Food

"In her life and in her work for print, stage and especially screen, Nora was the epitome of the New York writer: smart, funny, sophisticated, committed, driven and direct," Lowell Peterson, executive director, and Michael Winship, president, of the Writers Guild of America, East, said in a statement Tuesday night. "Nora and her husband Nick have been stalwart members of the Writers Guild, East — our love and sympathy to him and Nora's family, She was a friend, a colleague and a mentor and she will be deeply, deeply missed."

Said actress Carrie Fisher: "In a world where we're told that you can't have it all, Nora consistently proved that adage wrong. A writer, director, wife, mother, chef, wit–there didn't seem to be anything she couldn't do. And not just do it, but excel at it, revolutionize it, set the bar for every other screenwriter, novelist, director. She was inspiring, intimidating, and insightful." 

And said Cathy Schulman, president of Women in Film, Los Angeles: “We are deeply saddened by Nora’s early passing. Her writing and directing always showed us a world in which men and women are equally interesting, smart, funny and provocative, which is the way the world really is and should be illuminated in the stories we tell.”

Ephron was born to Jewish parents in New York, but soon moved to Beverly Hills, where she and her sister Delia — with whom she co-wrote her hit Emerald City-set romantic comedy "Sleepless in Seattle" — grew up to be screenwriters.

But first, she returned to New York, where she impressed the editors of the New York Post with satirical jabs at the tabloid's columnists. There, she broke the story of Bob Dylan marrying Sara Lownds and became staple of the the 1960s "New Journalism" movement.

Also read: Directors Guild to Honor Nora Ephron, Sen. Patrick Leahy

Soon after, her bylines appeared in numerous publications, including New York magazine, Esquire and the New York Times Magazine.

After her divorce from writer Dan Greenberg, she married Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein in 1976, four years after he and Bob Woodward broke the Watergate Scandal story that unseated President Richard Nixon.

She helped her then-husband rewrite much of William Goldman's script for "All the President's Men." Though her version of the script was not used, it landed her a screenwriting job on a television movie.

She became one of the few people to know the true identity of the reporters' source, "Deep Throat," and following a volatile divorce freely revealed his name: Mark Felt.

But her work on her husband's script helped elevate her reputation in the movie industry.

She garnered her first serious screenwriting success with her 1989 romantic comedy "When Harry Met Sally," which became an international hit. But her directing debut, "This Is My Life," was a box office flop.

However, she rebounded in 1993 with "Sleepless in Seattle," which she also directed, vaulting her to the top echelon of Hollywood's romantic comedy genre.

She continued making films until 2009's "Julie & Julia," for which she won best screenplay at the Writers Guild of America Awards.

Ephron also had a career in theater. Her play, "Imaginary Friends," appeared on Broadway in 2002 after premiering at the Old Globe theater in San Diego. The "play with music" by Marvin Hamlisch starred Cherry Jones as Mary McCarthy and Swoosie Kurtz as Lillian Hellman. It closed after only 76 performances.

She and her sister Delia collaborated on "Love, Loss and What I Wore," an off-Broadway hit based on the book by Ilene Beckerman.

The show, which opened in 2009, had played 1,013 performances when it closed in March. The play featured a rotating cast of celebrity women reading monologues about clothes and relationships.

Ephron was working on a new play, "Lucky Guy," about the late tabloid newspaper columnist Mike McAlary, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his coverage of the Abner Louima police brutality case. According to the New York Post, the play was set to star Tom Hanks, making his Broadway debut, and open in January 2013.

Ephron is survived by her husband Nicholas Pileggi; her sons Jacob and Max; and her three sisters, all noted writers, Amy, Delia and Hallie.