Entertainment & Arts

Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally screenwriter, dies

Nora Ephron in April 2012
Image caption Nora Ephron was an author, screenwriter and director

Hollywood screenwriter and director Nora Ephron, who penned such films as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, has died at the age of 71.

Alfred P Knopf, Ephron's publisher, confirmed her death on Tuesday night in a statement.

Actor Tom Hanks said in a tribute: "She lifted us all with wisdom and wit mixed with love for us and love for life.

Her son told the New York Times she died in Manhattan of complications relating to acute myeloid leukaemia.

The writer grew up in California, and started her career reporting for the New York Post.

"She brought an awful lot of people a tremendous amount of joy," her publisher said in a statement. "She will be sorely missed."

'Brilliant writer'

Her 15 film credits also include You've Got Mail, Silkwood and Julie and Julia, which was her final film, in 2009.

She was nominated for an Oscar three times, but never won the award.

When Harry Met Sally star Billy Crystal is among the Hollywood actors who have been paying her tribute.

"I am very sad to learn of Nora's passing. She was a brilliant writer and humorist," said Crystal. "Being her Harry to Meg's Sally will always have a special place in my heart.

"I was very lucky to get to say her words."

Hanks, who played lead roles in both Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail, said he and his wife Rita Wilson were "so very sad" to have lost a friend "who brought so much joy to all who were lucky enough to know her".

In a statement, Hanks said: "Nora Ephron was a journalist/artist who knew what was important to know: how things really worked, what was worthwhile, who was fascinating and why.

"At a dinner table and on a film set she lifted us all with wisdom and wit mixed with love for us and love for life."

'Take notes'

Ephron was born on 19 May 1941 in New York, to a Broadway playwright and a Hollywood screenwriter.

She put her mother's advice - "take notes, everything is copy" - to good effect, turning wry personal observations on relationships into hugely successful romantic comedies.

Ephron wrote essays for major US magazines from the late 1960s, as well as several non-fiction books, including two recent memoirs.

She was married three times, once to Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter who helped uncover the Watergate scandal.

The marriage ended publicly when he began an affair with the wife of the then-British ambassador, Margaret Jay, who was also the daughter of former British Prime Minister James Callaghan.

Ephron's divorce from Bernstein resulted in a novel, Heartburn, which she turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.

Streep, who also worked with Ephron on the Oscar-nominated Julie and Julia in 2009, said: "You could call on her for anything."

"Doctors, restaurants, recipes, speeches, or just a few jokes, and we all did it, constantly. She was an expert in all the departments of living well," she wrote in an email to The New York Times.

Ephron's first marriage to writer Dan Greenburg ended in 1976.

Her third marriage to Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the screenplays for the Martin Scorsese films Goodfellas and Casino, lasted more than 20 years.

Rumours of her death circulated on Tuesday evening after her friend, celebrity columnist Liz Smith, published an online memorial.

Smith said the writer's son had informed her a funeral had been scheduled for his mother.

Ephron is survived by her husband and two sons.

She was the oldest of four sisters, all of whom became writers.

'Delightful friend'

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among those paying tribute on Twitter: "Nora Ephron always loved a good New York story, and she could tell them like no one else. NYC will miss her very much."

Steve Martin, who starred in her films My Blue Heaven and Mixed Nuts tweeted: "She was the one you wanted to read, to listen to, to be in the company of. Nora Ephron. Incomparable wit; delightful friend. Sadness reigns."

Actress and comedian Bette Midler wrote: "Nora Ephron. The Hostess with the Mostest on the Ball. A brilliant soul, and we will all miss her so."

Jessica Biel added: "Thank you for your ground breaking contributions for women in the film industry. You have truly paved the way. With respect."

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