Award-winning screenwriter and director Nora Ephron died Tuesday in a New York hospital after a private battle with myeloid leukemia, NBC News confirmed. She was 71.
News of Ephron's illness did not break until Tuesday afternoon when her friend, columnist Liz Smith, prematurely penned a moving remembrance that appeared briefly on wowowow.com.
"People who never dreamed she was ill, are crestfallen. Amazed. Stunned," Smith wrote. "I won't say, 'Rest in peace, Nora' -- I will just ask 'What the hell will we do without you?'"
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Ephron's representatives quickly shot down buzz that she had died. Smith explained to The Hollywood Reporter and The Associated Press that she wrote the peice after Ephron's son, Jacob Bernstein, told her that his mother was gravely ill and that her funeral was being prepared for Thursday.
Hours later, Ephron's friend Richard Cohen confirmed her death to The Washington Post, which reported she died of complications from the illness she had been battling for the last six years.
In a statement, her family wrote that she died at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center "surrounded by her family."
Ephron started her career as a journalist but earned Hollywood fame for the screenplays of "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle." The latter film Ephron also directed. She was nominated for the Academy Award for original screenplay for both films and was also nominated in the same category for "Silkwood."
Ephron was born in New York City to screenwriting parents but grew up in Beverly Hills from the age of 4 following her family's move to California. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1962 with a degree in journalism and moved back to New York where she went on to hold writing postions at publications including Newsweek, the New York Post, Esquire and the New York Times Magazine.
Through her regular essays in Esquire, Ephron earned a readership that appreciated her humerous, yet forthright take on subjects like food, sex, relationships and New York City. Many of these essays were collected and republished in book form: "Crazy Salad," Wallflower at the Orgy" and "Scribble Scribble".
This honest approach to writing and celebration of strong female characters helped make 1989's "When Harry Met Sally" an international hit. Her take on romance and the social mores of late 80's America - the film starred Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal - catapulted her into the Hollywood stratosphere.
Ephron made her directorial debut with the comedy "This Is My Life" in 1992, but did not achieve the same success of "When Harry Met Sally" until 1993's "Sleepless in Seattle," which she directed and co-wrote. Her other film writing credits include "You've Got Mail," "Cookie," "Silkwood" and 2009's "Julie & Julia," which she also directed.
She was formerly married to novelist Dan Greenburg, Watergate investigative journalist Carl Bernstein (she based "Heartburn" on their marriage and subsequent divorce - the couple had two children), and was wed to journalist and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi at the time of her death.
A prolific writer, Ephron continued to publish numerous books and plays and blogged for the Huffington Post through 2011. Her latest novel, "I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections" was published in March.