William Hjortsberg, Screenwriter of 'Legend' and 'Angel Heart,' Dies at 76

He wrote 10 books and three screenplays, mainly in the 1970s and 1980s.
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William Hjortsberg

Author William Hjortsberg, who wrote the screenplay for Legend and the novel Falling Angel (which was adapted into the film Angel Heart), died April 22 in Livingston, Mont., according to his hometown paper. He was 76.

The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, family friend Joanne Gardner said.

Hjortsberg, known to friends as “Gatz,” was the author of 10 books and three screenplays. His most prominent novel was 1978's Falling Angel, which mixed horror and detective fiction. The 1987 film version, Angel Heart, starred Robert De Niro, Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet and attracted controversy for a graphic sex scene between Bonet and Rourke.

According to fellow author and friend Tim Cahill, Hjortsberg was writing a Falling Angel sequel when he died. It will be published this year, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Legend was a 1985 fantasy adventure film starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry and directed by Ridley Scott as his follow-up to Blade Runner. Hjortsberg also wrote the screenplays for the Roger Corman-produced films Thunder and Lightning and The Georgia Peaches.

Hjortsberg was in demand as a screenwriter in the 1970s and 1980s. Unproduced screenplays include adaptations of Legends of the Fall, A River Runs Through It and Mandrake the Magician.

Hjortsberg was born in New York in 1941. His father was a Swedish-born merchant marine sailor who opened a Swedish restaurant in New York City. He died when Hjortsberg was 10.

Hjortsberg graduated from Dartmouth in 1962 and attended the Yale School of Drama in 1962-63 but dropped out before receiving his degree. A friendship with fellow writer Thomas McGuane, whom he met at Yale, helped him secure his first book contract for 1969’s Alp. In the early 1970s he followed McGuane to Livingston, where he lived for the rest of his life and was part of a local literary scene known as "The Montana Gang."

Hjortsberg is survived by his third wife, Janie Camp, a painter, and two children, Lorca and Max. His first two marriages ended in divorce. 

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