Heartburn, Heartache: Nora Ephron Dies at 71

I didn’t see it in a reader, and I’m glad of that. I heard it from a friend last evening on the phone, and it was a more personal delivery of the news.

“Did you hear?” she asked, her voice cracking.

“Hear what?”

“Nora Ephron died,” she said.

I was stunned, and at first thought she must be mistaken. You hear everything and anything on the Internet, which is where she saw it. So I opened my laptop and poked around. Indeed, Nora Ephron died yesterday, at age 71, of Leukemia.

I didn’t know Nora Ephron, except in the way that readers and movie-goers might know her, yet her passing saddens me enormously. I imagine there is a generation – or two – who feel special kinship to this writer and filmmaker.

There will always be public figures with whom we identify for any number of reasons. Perhaps we associate them with a particular time in our lives, or they express viewpoints that instruct us, or better yet – that inspire us.

Nora Ephron was a journalist, an essayist, a novelist, a screenwriter, and director. She was married three times, perhaps most famously to Washington reporter Carl Bernstein, and that marriage (and divorce) birthed one of her most well-known novels, Heartburn.

In fact, when I hear the name, Nora Ephron, Heartburn comes immediately to mind. Touching on the experiences of a woman discovering her husband is having an affair while she’s pregnant with their child, it’s Ms. Ephron’s own story of the unraveling of her second marriage. Some 20 years after it was written, I was laughing and nodding as I made my way through its pages – finding endearing characters, delightful dialog, and so much recognition in its words.

Perhaps you are more familiar with the now well-ingrained notion that men and women can’t make it as friends without some sort of sexual question mark between them. Her 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally, is a gem of a romantic comedy, imbedded in the courtship dance for so many of us.

In Heartburn, you will find the origins of key characters that are fully fleshed out in When Harry Met Sally, which has truly become a classic examination of friendship as well as Boy Meets Girl.

Among other unforgettable romantic comedies are 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle and 1998’s You’ve Got Mail. More recently, Meryl Streep, who also played in the 1986 film version of Heartburn, enchanted us in Ms. Ephron’s 2009 film, Julie and Julia.

On a slightly different note, and one which feels more personal, Ms. Ephron attended Wellesley College (a fact that makes me smile, as I can picture her there). And it was she who was part of creating the Huffington Post Divorce vertical. Say what you will about raising the profile on divorce, but since November 2010 when the Divorce Section debuted, issues around divorce are now openly discussed in a major media outlet. This is yet one more way in which this talented woman took the ups and downs of her own life and offered them to us – to find humor, consolation, and worthy discussion when it comes to contemporary relationships.

I will miss Nora Ephron’s storytelling, her lovable characters, and her implicit encouragement to admit our foibles and frailties, finding humor in all of it, if we can.

Photo credit: Wiki, under Creative Commons License 3.0, David Shankbone, Further attribution here.

© D. A. Wolf



  1. says

    R.I.P. Nora. And she’s one of the few women (not an actress) who had some real clout in Hollywood. For all of the reasons you’ve stated, she will be missed.

  2. says

    I’m sad as well. She was actually in my mother’s class at Wellesley and I was first introduced to her when my mother gave me a copy of Crazy Salad, one of her first books of essays. I howled my way through I Hate My Neck and just ordered I Remember Nothing on iBook. 71 is way too young.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Pauline, your comment reminds me how much Wellesley women have been on my mind lately. I didn’t know Nora Ephron attended Wellesley until doing some reading last night, which made me think of Hillary Clinton and Anne-Marie Slaughter, both Wellesley alumnae much in the news in the past few weeks. In my own life, I’ve encountered a few dynamic alums in the past few weeks as well, reminding me of the extraordinary caliber of women – known and unknown – that shared an incredible learning experience on that campus.

      Your mother was fortunate, as were all of us who had a shot at a great education. And yes, 71 seems much too young.

  3. says

    You see, I told you you would write it right.

    She will certainly be missed. She was our contemporary Dorothy Parker — maybe even better.


  4. says

    She inspired so many. I considered her strength as a woman writer when I was trying to find my own courage to bring personal ideas and thoughts to light.

    She will be sorely missed.

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute.

  5. says

    It is like losing a close friend…she touched my heart so often through her work and has given me hours of enjoyment. She will be greatly missed. She had an amazing gift of communication and understanding of women.

  6. batticus says

    The line “I’ll have what she’s having” (spoken by director Rob Reiner’s mom) in When Harry met Sally has to be one of the funniest lines in movie history. A brilliant script, she will be missed.

  7. says

    I never met her but I was devastated when I heard the news. She knew women intimately and she explored so many things about relationships that were once taboo. Her body of work and legacy will live on for many years to come.

  8. lunaboogie says

    I, too, was sad to hear of her passing. Within the past year, she was interviewed on our local NPR affiliate and I so enjoyed that interview, basically a humorous retelling of events in her life and career. I was so impressed. I had always thought of most of her movies (Seattle, Harry and Mail) as enjoyable but not very deep. Now I can’t wait to read her essays.

  9. says

    I have a copy of Crazy Salad in the small bookcase next to my bed. She’s of an earlier generation than myself, but I found her relevant in so many ways, and her discussions of feminism furthered my understanding of the topic at a time when I was questioning that understanding (wait, I’m a feminist stay at home mom who is getting divorced and reentering the workforce? whhhhaaaattttt?).

    It is ironic that “When Harry Met Sally” was the movie that my ex and I called “our movie,” and that our relationship is over and Ms. Ephron is gone. But it’s just sad that she’s gone. Stupid cancer.

  10. Northmoon says

    Nora Epheron had just come on to my radar from mention in your blog I believe. I read and loved “I Feel Bad About My Neck”, admired her so much. And now she’s gone, way too soon.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Oh yes – words so many women can appreciate… And yes, gone much too soon. I still can’t quite believe it.

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