Nora Ephron, writer of When Harry Met Sally, dies from leukemia at age of 71

Writer and director Nora Ephron dies at 71: Film icon behind When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle loses her battle with leukemia

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UPDATED:

02:57 GMT, 27 June 2012

Nora Ephron, the writer of iconic movies When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail, has died at the age of 71.

The author and screenwriter had fought a six-year battle with leukemia and finally succumbed to the disease. Ephron's son Jacob Bernstein confirmed her death today.

She earned three Oscar nominations for her screenwriting and her work was among the most quotable and influential of her generation.

Great wit: Writer and director Nora Ephron, pictured in 2010, passed away today at the age of 71

Great wit: Writer and director Nora Ephron, pictured in 2010, passed away today at the age of 71

Timeless: One of Ephron's greatest creations' When Harry Met Sally, starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, set the precedent for a new style of romantic comedies

Timeless: One of Ephron's greatest creations' When Harry Met Sally, starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, set the precedent for a new style of romantic comedies

Her book publisher Alfred A. Knopf also confirmed her death in a statement as fellow writers and the acting community reacted with shock.

Actress Kirstie Alley wrote on Twitter: '''You can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream.” Nora Ephron. Oh Jeez… you will be missed..RIP XO'

Another actress Kerry Washington said: 'My heart aches. Nora Ephron. What a tremendous loss. RIP.'

Shonda Rhimes, writer and director of Grey's Anatomy, quoted Ephron herself, posting: '''I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are.'' – Nora Ephron.'

Colin Hanks, son of Tom Hanks who starred in some of her best-loved movies, said: 'Nora Ephron was devastatingly funny, extremely witty, and was ALWAYS one of the kindest people I have ever met.'

With Tom Hanks: Ephron wrote Sleepless in Seattle and also directed the 1998 film

With Tom Hanks: Ephron wrote Sleepless in Seattle and also directed the 1998 film

Best director: Ephron won a 2011 Director's Guild of America award for directing actress Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia. She also wrote the screenplay

Best director: Ephron won a 2011 Director's Guild of America award for directing actress Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia. She also wrote the screenplay

Earlier today newspaper
columnist Liz Smith broke the story in a wowOwow article
that eulogized the scriptwriter, saying her family including her
husband of 20 years, the writer Nicholas Pileggi, had already planned her funeral.

'I won't say, “Rest in peace, Nora” –
I will ask, “What the hell will we do without you”' Smith wrote. The
column, which was written as if Ephron had already died, was later
removed from the site.

Ephron
was born on May 19, 1941 in New York City. At the age of four, she moved
to Beverly Hills with her screenwriting parents Henry and Phoebe and three younger siblings.

Determined by high school to be a journalist, Ephron graduated from the
single sex Wellesley College in 1962, moved to New York and started out
as a fact checker at Newsweek.

She moved to the New York Post and remained there five years. Ephron soon began writing for Esquire and The New York Times and developed a national following with her articles.

She covered political conventions, the feminist movement and Wellesley, which she labeled a factory for 'docile' women.

Tear jerker: Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the wildly popular Sleepless in Seattle, directed and written by Ephron

Tear-jerker: Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the wildly popular Sleepless in Seattle, directed and written by Ephron

Another hit: Ephron also wrote and directed You've Got Mail - again starring Hanks and Ryan

Another hit: Ephron also wrote and directed You've Got Mail – again starring Hanks and Ryan

She married in 1976 to Carl Bernstein,
who teamed with reporter Bob Woodward on prize-winning coverage of the
Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon.

The couple had two children. Ephron was
pregnant with her second child
when she learned Bernstein was having an affair with a mutual
friend Margaret Jay, who was married to the British ambassador to the
U.S.

The marriage crumbled but it inspired Ephron's book Heartburn which was so close to her life that Bernstein threatened to sue.

It was later adapted for screen and
starred Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. The Oscar-winning actress
teamed up with Ephron again in 2009 to star in Julia & Julia.

Ephron's talent for bringing to
life flawed but deeply likeable and funny women made her beloved by
movie audiences – and industry gold.

Lasting love: Nicholas Pileggi and Nora Ephron, at the Oscars in 2010, had been married for 20 years

Lasting love: Nicholas Pileggi and Nora Ephron, at the Oscars in 2010, had been married for 20 years

Broken heart: Nora wrote Heartburn after husband No. 2, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein - seen together in 1978 - had an affair with a mutual friend

Broken heart: Nora wrote Heartburn after husband No. 2, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein – seen together in 1978 – had an affair with a mutual friend

One of her greatest successes was
When Harry Met Sally, the 1989 romantic comedy starring Billy Crystal
and Meg Ryan, about two friends who fall in love despite their own
misgivings that the 'sex part always gets in the way'.

The film struck a chord with audiences for its quirky dialogue, sharp wit and more rounded portrayal of female leads.

As a rare woman to write, direct and produce Hollywood movies, Meg Ryan was among the many actresses who said they loved working with Ephron because she understood them so much better than male peers.

Following When Harry Met Sally, she wrote and directed the equally successful
Sleepless in Seattle, pairing Meg Ryan with Tom Hanks followed by You've
Got Mail, also starring Ryan and Hanks.

When
Harry Met Sally earned an Academy Award nomination for its screenplay
in 1990 and then four years later, Ephron was nominated again for Sleepless in Seattle.

Ephron was married three times: to Dan Greenberg, Bernstein and, quite happily, to Nicholas Pileggi whose books inspired Martin Scorcese's films Goodfellas and Casino.

She is survived by her husband, son and daughter along with sisters Delia Ephron and Amy Ephron, both of whom are also writers.

Strong female leads: Ephron was acclaimed for the way she wrote for women. Her first film was the 1983 Silkwood, starring Streep

Strong female leads: Ephron was acclaimed for the way she wrote for women. Her first film was the 1983 Silkwood, starring Streep

All stars: Ephron liked working with the same actors. She directed Streep in the 2010 hit, Julie and Julia

All stars: Ephron liked working with the same actors. She directed Streep in the 2010 hit, Julie and Julia