We regret to bring you the news that Oscar-nominated E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial screenwriter – and frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator – Melissa Mathison has passed away at age 65, following her battle with neuroendocrine cancer.
Spielberg, who collaborated with Mathison yet again on his upcoming Roald Dahl book-turned film The BFG (which opens in theaters in 2016), has issued a public statement on her passing, saying “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”
Mathison was born Melissa Marie Mathison in Los Angeles, California, on June 3rd, 1950, to her parents Margaret Jean and Richard Radolph Mathison (the latter being a professional journalist). She attended the University of California, Berkeley, before she got her start in the film industry in the 1970s. Prior to her career as a Hollywood movie screenwriter, Mathison worked alongside Francis Ford Coppola on The Godfather: Part II (being credited as a location assistant) and Apocalypse Now (where she served as an executive assistant).
Thereafter, Mathison received her first produced feature-length script credit for The Black Stallion, the critically-acclaimed 1979 film based on Walter Farley’s children’s novel of the same name. Mathison in turn followed up that project with her screenplay for The Escape Artist, as well as another script about a young boy and his friendship with a creature of another species – one not of this Earth in this case – in the form of her E.T. screenplay.
Her script for Spielberg’s iconic 1982 sci-fi film earned Mathison both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination, as well as a win for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen – from the Writers Guild of America, in 1983. Indeed, one glimpse at a couple of pages from the E.T. screenplay (see the related embedded Tweet below) and it becomes clear: Mathison deserves as much credit as Spielberg does for infusing that iconic tale about a lost little alien with heart and rich substance – creating one of the all-time great heartstring-tugging works of cinematic storytelling in Hollywood history.
Melissa Mathison’s E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL. Rest in peace, and THANK YOU for everything. pic.twitter.com/sfLSKhDsf1— Screenplay Pages (@FirstFinalPages) November 5, 2015
Mathison, who was also married to Harrison Ford from 1983 to 2004, collaborated with Spielberg again on 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie – where Mathison co-wrote the Spielberg directed segment of the film. While Mathison only worked on a handful of scripts over the decades that followed, those projects that bore her name as the screenwriter were all well-received; including, the children’s book adaptation The Indian in the Cupboard (1996) and Martin Scorsese’s Dalai Lama drama Kundun in 1997. More recently, in addition to scripting The BFG for Spielberg, Mathison also consulted on the English-dubbed storyline for Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film, Ponyo.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Melissa Mathison’s family and loved ones during this difficult time. Mathison leaves behind her a treasure trove of screenwriting work that has touched the hearts of generations of filmgoers – and will no doubt continue to do so in the future, too.
R.I.P. Melissa Marie Mathison: June 3rd, 1950 – November 4th, 2015.