Oscar-winning scriptwriter William Goldman, 87, dies

Oscar-winning scriptwriter William Goldman, 87, dies
William Goldman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter behind "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," and "All the President's Men," passed away Friday morning in New York City following complications from cancer and pneumonia. Photo: AFP
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New York: William Goldman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and Hollywood wise man who won Academy Awards for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "All the President's Men" and summed up the mystery of making a box office hit by declaring "Nobody knows anything," has died. He was 87.

Goldman's daughter, Jenny, said her father died early Friday in New York due to complications from colon cancer and pneumonia. "So much of what's he's written can express who he was and what he was about," she said, adding that the last few weeks, while Goldman was ailing, revealed just how many people considered him family.

Goldman, who also converted his novels "Marathon Man," ''Magic" and "The Princess Bride" into screenplays, clearly knew more than most about what the audience wanted, despite his famous and oft-repeated proclamation. He penned a litany of box-office hits, was an in-demand script doctor and carved some of the most indelible phrases in cinema history into the American consciousness.

Goldman made political history by coining the phrase "follow the money" in his script for "All the President's Men," adapted from the book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the Watergate political scandal. The film starred Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein. Standing in the shadows, Hal Holbrook was the mystery man code-named Deep Throat who helped the reporters pursue the evidence. His advice, "Follow the money," became so widely quoted that few people realized it was never said during the actual scandal.

A confirmed New Yorker, Goldman declined to work in Hollywood. Instead, he would fly to Los Angeles for two-day conferences with directors and producers, then return home to fashion a script, which he did with amazing speed. In his 1985 book, "Adventures in the Screen Trade," he expressed disdain for an industry that elaborately produced and tested a movie, only to see it dismissed by the public during its first weekend in theatres.

"Nobody knows anything," he wrote.

In the book, Goldman also summed up to the screenwriter's low stature in Hollywood. "In terms of authority, screenwriters rank somewhere between the man who guards the studio gate and the man who runs the studio (this week)," wrote Goldman.

But for a generation of screenwriters, including Aaron Sorkin, Goldman was a mentor.

"He was the dean of American screenwriters and generations of filmmakers will continue to walk in the footprints he laid," Sorkin said in a statement. "He wrote so many unforgettable movies, so many thunderous novels and works of non-fiction, and while I'll always wish he'd written one more, I'll always be grateful for what he's left us."

Goldman launched his writing career after receiving a master's degree in English from Columbia University in 1956. Weary of academia, he declined the chance to earn a PhD, choosing instead to write the novel "The Temple of Gold" in 10 days. Knopf agreed to publish it.

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