Jean Stein, Author of 'Edie' and 'West of Eden,' Jumps to Her Death at 83

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Jean Stein

An expert in the art of oral history, she jumped to her death from the 15th floor of a New York City apartment building, police said.

Jean Stein, the author best known for writing the oral histories Edie: American Girl, about Andy Warhol's muse, and the Hollywood insider's tale West of Eden: An American Place, died by suicide on Sunday, according to several reports. She was 83.

Stein, a former editor at the Paris Review who worked with Elia Kazan on the original Broadway version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, jumped from the 15th floor of an Upper East Side apartment building at 10 Gracie Square and landed on an eighth-floor balcony. A NYPD spokesman confirmed the suicide to The Hollywood Reporter but would not release the woman's name.

In 1988, Anderson Cooper’s brother Carter died by suicide by jumping off the balcony of his mother Gloria Vanderbilt’s apartment in the same building.

Stein was born in Los Angeles in 1934 to Music Corporation of America founder Jules Stein and his wife Doris. After two years at Wellesley College, she enrolled at the University of Paris. While there, she had an affair with William Faulkner and then landed a job as an editor at the Paris Review.

Stein then returned to New York and worked as Kazan’s assistant on the original 1955 stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

In 1970, Stein and George Plimpton produced the oral history American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy (Stein conducted the interviews and Plimpton edited the volume). The pair used the conceit of being on board Kennedy’s funeral train to structure the stories in the interviews.

In 1982, they reteamed for Edie: An American Biography (later retitled American Girl), about the heiress and Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick, who died of a drug overdose in 1971 at age 28. Their work was praised by Norman Mailer as "the book of the Sixties that we have been waiting for."

Last year, Stein published West of Eden: An American Place, an oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles structured around multiple families, including the Dohenys, the Warners and her own.

The Los Angeles Times said the book was "like being at an insider's cocktail party where the most delicious gossip about the rich and powerful is being dished by smart people." The New York Times said, "Oral history as Stein practices it … is as close as we're going to come to the real story of anything."

Stein married lawyer William vanden Heuvel, who went on to work for Kennedy as an aide to the U.S. attorney general, in 1958. They had two children — Katrina, now editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, and Wendy, an actress and producer — before divorcing.

From 1995-2007, Stein was married to Nobel Prize-winning neurophysiologist Torsten Wiesel.  

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