Screenwriter and Director Nora Ephron Dies at 71

3:33 PM PST 06/26/2012 by THR Staff
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

UPDATE: News outlets report the death of the "Sleepless in Seattle" writer/director.

Nora Ephron, the celebrated screenwriter and director, died of leukemia Tuesday evening in New York, according to The New York Times.

The news followed an afternoon in which it was reported that she was gravely ill, though her agency CAA and publisher Knopf denied earlier reports that she had died.

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Ephron, best known for penning the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally … (1989) and then writing and directing Sleepless in Seattle (1989) and You've Got Mail (1998), had not been reported as ill before a story from gossip columnist Liz Smith -- which repeatedly referred to the 71-year-old in the past tense while never pronouncing her dead.

Smith's story was soon edited, but when speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Smith said that she'd spoken with Ephron's son Jacob Bernstein.

“I was told this morning that she was dying, but I can’t confirm it,” she said. Smith went on to say that Bernstein told her that the family was planning for the funeral. But when no confirmation of Ephron’s death was forthcoming, Smith revised what she wrote.

“I have had to put everything in the present tense,” she wrote. “It’s bad enough that she’s dying, but I don’t want to be the cause for everyone to grieve in advance."

Passing along the news that she said she received from Smith, columnist Margo Howard tweeted, "Well, to those of you who can't find the news of Nora Ephron's death, the funeral is Thursday - and maybe that's the way she wanted it."

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The daughter of Hollywood screenwriters, Ephron established herself as an original voice with an idiosyncratic take on modern manners with the personal essays she wrote in the 1960s for such publications as New York, Esquire and the New York Times Magazine. She made her feature screenwriting debut in 1983 with Mike Nichols' Silkwood. Her screenplays for Silkwood, Harry and Sleepless all earned Oscar nominations.

Ephron moved into directing with the 1992 feature This Is My Life, the story of a stand-up comic starring Julie Kavner. The following year, Sleepless proved to be a huge hit, making Ephron one of Hollywood's few successful woman directors. Most recently, she directed 2009's Julie & Julia, which starred her frequent collaborator Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

Ephron was married to writer Nicholas Pileggi and has two sons, Jacob and Max Bernstein, from her previous marriage to investigative reporter Carl Bernstein.

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