Joan Didion, the author of five novels including the National Book Award-winning The Year of Magical Thinking who also excelled in essays and has screenwriting credits including the 1976 version of A Star Is Born, died Thursday of complications of Parkinson’s disease in Manhattan. She was 87.
Her publisher at Knopf confirmed the news to The New York Times.
Didion’s career blossomed in the midst of and reflected sea changes in America, with books published in the 1960s and ’70s including Run River, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It as It Lays, A Book of Common Prayer and The White Album, an anthology of her magazine writing for the likes of Life and The Saturday Evening Post that detailed stories mostly about California. Didion was born in Sacramento and was drawn to stories about her home state.
As a journalist, she wrote political essays including “Salvador,” about the U.S. involvement in El Salvador. She also pointed her pen at the likes of hippie culture, The Doors and the immigrants of Miami.
She was married to Time writer John Gregory Dunne, and they collaborated on several screenplays after adapting her 1970 novel Play It as It Lays together. It was released in 1972 and starred Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins.
Didion later would reteam with Dunne and with Frank Pierson to write the script for 1976’s A Star Is Born, starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, about the rise and fall of a Hollywood starlet. She and Dunne also co-penned 1996’s Up Close and Personal, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford, about an ambitious young journalist trying to build her career.
In 2003, Dunne died of a heart attack at 71, and their adopted daughter suffered a near-fatal bout of pneumonia; she would die two years later at 39. Both tragedies became subjects of Didion’s prose, including in The Year of Magical Thinking, which she wrote as a form of therapy. The book was adapted into a one-woman Broadway play starring Vanessa Redgrave.
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