What sounded earlier today like a possible Internet error has, sadly, become real.
Nora Ephron — a revered screenwriter, best-selling author and film director known for writing candid personal essays and applying her wry, observational humor to the romantic-comedy genre — died today at the age of 71. The Post’s Adam Bernstein published an obituary this evening that confirmed her death via her friend, Post columnist Richard Cohen. She died of complications from the blood disorder myelodysplasia, with which she was diagnosed six years ago.
That illness, however, had never been widely reported. Consequently there was extreme confusion online earlier today when the Twitterverse caught wind of an obit posted prematurely at wowowow.com by celebrity gossip legend Liz Smith, a longtime friend and former colleague from Ephron’s reporting days at the New York Post. (That article has since been removed from the Web site.) The ensuing online speculation that Ephron had died led representatives from her publishing house, Alfred A. Knopf, to deny she had passed, but confirm she was indeed gravely ill. The confirmation of her death came just hours later.
Ephron possessed a full, multi-faceted career and personal life, which included two children and three marriages: one to writer Dan Greenburg; a second to former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, which ended in divorce as well as the novel “Heartburn” and its screen adaptation; and a third to screenwriter Nicolas Pileggi, who survives her, along with sons Jacob and Max from her marriage to Bernstein.
She famously said she figured out the identity of Deep Throat, the shadowy informant in the Watergate case, long before the rest of the world did, and wasn’t shy about sharing it. “Why these people with these ludicrous theories didn’t call me I cannot imagine,” she wrote in a Huffington Post essay after Mark Felt and Deep Throat were finally publicly defined as one. “I am listed.”
But her political mystery-solving skills are not what she will be remembered for.
She’ll be remembered as a journalist with a natural, ground-breaking flair for injecting personal commentary into her work. Ephron wrote decades ago the way everyone with a blog strives to do now: with zippy, smart, often confessional prose. She was laugh-out-loud funny before anyone could conceive of describing that via the term “LOL.”
She directed and/or wrote some movies that were wonderful (“Silkwood,” “Sleepless in Seattle.”) She directed and/or wrote some that were just so-so (“You’ve Got Mail”.) And she directed and/or wrote some that were rightfully panned (“Bewitched.”) In what would be her final film, 2009’s “Julie & Julia,” Ephron, acting as writer-director, allowed us to see what Meryl Streep looked like as clucking gourmand Julia Child, leading the actress to her 16th Academy Award nomination.
Ephron didn’t want for Oscar nods either. She earned three for her screenwriting efforts: one in 1984 for “Silkwood,” one in 1994 for co-scripting “Sleepless in Seattle,” which she also directed; and one in 1990 for perhaps the most widely appreciated gift she ever gave to pop culture, “When Harry Met Sally.” It’s that film that those who mourn Nora Ephron will likely pop into their DVD players or stream online tonight as they pause to remember a woman who made us feel less alone in our neurotic tendencies, who managed to be both cynical and big-hearted — a Harry and a Sally — all at once.
In that career-defining film, Jess and Marie, the characters played by Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher, fall instantly in love after Marie quotes a passage from one of Jess’s magazine articles.
“Nobody’s ever quoted me back to me before,” Kirby’s Jess confesses.
It seems fair to assume that people quoted Nora Ephron back to Nora Ephron all the time, on nearly every day of her productive yet still all-too-brief life.