Nora Ephron, Sleepless in Seattle Director, Dead at 71

Writer and filmmaker passes away after battling leukemia

By Joal Ryan Jun 27, 2012 12:36 AMTags
Nora EphronAP Photo/Charles Sykes

If you like romantic-comedies, and you like them witty, chances are you have loved Nora Ephron.

The writer of When Harry Met Sally..., and filmmaker of Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and the Julia Child valentine, Julie & Julia, died today of leukemia. She was 71.

Word of Ephron's illness leaked today, New York reported on its website, when columnist Liz Smith published an online tribute to the writer-director.

A former journalist herself, Ephron made her first substantial mark in Hollywood as the writer of the 1983 biopic, Silkwood, for which she earned the first of her three career Oscar nominations.

Silkwood starred Meryl Streep, who would go onto star in two more Ephron-penned films, 2009's Julie & Julia, and 1986's Heartburn, based on the Ephron novel, which itself was based on Ephron's failed marriage to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein.

Ephron moved into household-name territory with the 1989 Rob Reiner-director When Harry Met Sally... Ephron took credit for the hit's central thesis—can a man and woman be just friends?—but not for its most famous line. (Billy Crystal was said to have dreamed up the retort to Meg Ryan's faked deli orgasm: "I'll have what she's having.")

Ephron made her directing debut in the 1992 stage comedy, This Is My Life, starring The Simpson's Julie Kavner.

Her track record as a director was hit (John Travolta's Michael, the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan favorite You've Got Mail, Julie & Julia) and miss (most notably, her 2005 attempt to recast Bewitched as a big-screen romantic-comedy for Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell).

Julie & Julia, for which Streep earned an Oscar nomination, was Ephron's last film.

Ephron never published a memoir, so to speak, but she wrote about her life often, including in the two latter-day essay collections I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing.

"Some people just get unbelievably lucky and they're like Kitty Hart and they live to be 94 years old and still performing at Carnegie Hall. And still with great legs," Ephron told in a 2010 interview, as she summed up how aging was a matter of good luck and bad.   

The daughter of screenwriters Henry Ephron and Phoebe Ephron, Ephron was born May 19, 1941, in New York City. Her survivors include her husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas and Casino, both based on his books), and sisters Delia Ephron and Amy Ephron, both of whom are also writers.