Oscar-winning writer Pierson dead at 87

July 23, 2012 at 9:31 PM
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LOS ANGELES, July 23 (UPI) -- Film writer-director Frank Pierson has died of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, the Writers Guild of America confirmed Monday.

The New York native and World War II veteran was 87 when he died Sunday. No other details regarding the cause of his death were disclosed.

Pierson was president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 2001-2005, and a former president of the West Coast division of the WGA. He earned an Academy Award and Writers Guild Award for writing the screenplay for the 1975 film, "Dog Day Afternoon." He was nominated for screenplay Oscars for "Cool Hand Luke" (with Donn Pearce) and "Cat Ballou" (with Walter Newman.)

"Frank Pierson was, without qualification, one of the great writers of our era. His themes were honor, love, and betrayal; his medium was television and film. His was a career that spanned from 'Have Gun Will Travel' to 'Mad Men,' stopping off at 'Cool Hand Luke' and 'Dog Day Afternoon' and so many memorable others. His characters -- saints and sinners alike -- were stunningly specific, always surprising, and never failed to earn our understanding," WGAW Vice President Howard A. Rodman said in a statement. "I'll miss his presence, kind and fierce. His writing stays with us and is a model for what, with hard work and generosity of spirit, we might achieve."

"I feel very lucky, as do all the writers at 'Mad Men,' to have collaborated with and enjoyed the amazing presence that was Frank Pierson. He was a writer's writer: sharp and funny and clever and, most importantly, honest about the details that make one human. He was a great artist and made everyone around him better. I can't believe I knew him," said "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner of Pierson, who served as consulting producer on the acclaimed AMC series for several seasons up until this year. "If you asked Frank what he was most proud of, he'd tell you, 'Being a writer.'"

"Few things carry more pain, disturb more, than hearing that a great talent's gone. Frank was one. He could bring life to life with remarkable honesty. No using his shoe tip to test for landmines, he once told a Humanitas [Prize] luncheon, 'The writer who takes the chance to dig into his own soul is tackling stuff that is hard, not just because he is vulnerable, but because we tend to defend these areas ourselves as private and secret.' He was among the best because he gave of himself," said former WGAW President Christopher Knopf.

Pierson served as WGAW president for two separate terms -- 1981 to 1983 and 1993 to 1995.

He was a four-time Emmy nominee, with three nominations for directing "Soldier's Girl," "Conspiracy" and Citizen Cohn."

His directing credits include the films "The Looking Glass War," "A Star is Born" and "King of the Gypsies" and the TV movie "Truman."

Pierson is survived by his wife, Helene; his children, Michael and Eve; and five grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Stand Up to Cancer.

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