As reported by Variety, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Melissa Mathison has died from an undisclosed illness. She was 65.
Born in 1950, Mathison’s first credited roles in Hollywood were as an assistant on The Godfather: Part II and Apocalypse Now, but she got into screenwriting with The Black Stallion in 1979. A few years after that, she began working with Steven Spielberg on E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, a script that would earn her an Academy Award nomination. As Variety notes, Spielberg explains in the E.T. DVD extras that he was “knocked out” when he read Mathison’s first draft of the film’s script, adding that it was “so honest” and that it “made a direct connection” with his heart.
In a statement released today, Spielberg said, “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.” The pair had also reunited recently, with Mathison writing the screenplay for Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. That film is set to be released next summer.
Mathison would also go on to write for the Twilight Zone movie, the Indian In The Cupboard adaptation, and Martin Scorcese’s Dalai Lama film Kundun. During production of Kundun, Mathison even befriended the Dalai Lama and became an active proponent of Tibetan freedom.
Mathison is survived her two children, Malcolm and Georgia Ford.