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'A heart that shined with love': E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison has died

“Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”

‘E.T.’ SCREENWRITER MELISSA Mathison has died, aged 65 – prompting tributes from cinema-goers and the world of showbusiness.

“Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T,” director Steven Spielberg said.

Known for her family friendly films, Mathison’s stories were rich with symbolism, adventure, depth, and darkness. With their intricate plots and grown up themes of loneliness and loss, her films enchanted a generation of kids, and their parents.

Mathison died yesterday at the age of 65 after a bout with neuroendocrine cancer, her sister, Melinda Mathison Johnson, confirmed.

Long career

She might never have matched the heights of ‘E.T.’ which came out when she was in her early 30s, but the film’s cultural resonance continues to reverberate even over three decades later.

Spielberg may have come up with the idea, but Mathison made it into a story.

As far as Hollywood currency goes, she crafted one for the ages.

The Los Angeles native had a humble but high-profile start — her first credited work was in assistant roles on ‘The Godfather: Part II’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ before she broke out with her script for ‘The Black Stallion’. Carol Ballard directed the warmly received adaptation, which came out in 1979.

It was on the set of ‘Apocalypse Now’ in 1976 that she met Harrison Ford, who she married in 1983 and divorced in 2004 after multiple separations. She and Ford had two children, Georgia and Malcolm.

HARRISON FORD Melissa Mathison with Harrison Ford in 1998. Source: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

Throughout her career, she often collaborated with producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall under their Amblin Entertainment banner and worked with directors like Frank Oz on ‘The Indian in the Cupboard’ and Martin Scorsese on 1997′s ‘Kundun’ – a biographical film about the Dalai Lama.

‘Kundun’ struck close to Mathison’s personal passions. An active support of Tibet freedom, she was also on the board of the nonprofit advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet.


But history will most fondly remember her for fleshing out the story of that friendly, homesick alien E.T. The film, directed by Spielberg and released in 1982, would become one of the highest grossing of all time.

According to Hollywood lore, Spielberg and her then-boyfriend Ford convinced her to write the screenplay on a 207 mile-drive through the Tunisian desert from Nefta to Sousse during the shoot for ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.

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The script for E.T. earned Mathison her first and only Oscar nomination. She lost out to John Briley’s ‘Gandhi’ screenplay for the prize.

et1 Source: ET

In a 1995 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mathison, who was one of five children born to a journalist father and a mother who sometimes worked in publicity, remembered the Hollywood Hills household in which she grew up as a place where independence and creativity were encouraged.

“We weren’t your mainstream ’50s family,” she told the newspaper.

“Both my parents had wonderful, eccentric, artistic friends who treated us as friends as well. How your mind worked was considered important.”

Mathison was a political science major at UC Berkeley when she took a leave to work as Francis Ford Coppola’s assistant on ‘The Godfather, Part II’ the Times reported in 1995.

Her last credited work is on Spielberg’s big screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved novel ‘The BFG’ which comes out next year.

Associated Press with reporting by Daragh Brophy. 

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