Nora Ephron, the essayist, author and filmmaker who challenged and thrived in the male-dominated worlds of movies and journalism and was loved, respected and feared for her wit, has died of leukaemia. She was 71.
Ephron's son, Jacob Bernstein, confirmed her death. Her book publisher Alfred A. Knopf also confirmed it in a statement.
Born into a family of screenwriters, she was a top journalist in her 20s and 30s, then a best-selling author and successful director.
Ephron was among the most quotable and influential writers of her generation.
She wrote and directed such film favourites as When Harry Met Sally, Julie & Julia and Sleepless in Seattle.
Her books included the novel Heartburn, a brutal roman a clef (novel with a key) about her marriage to acclaimed Washington Post Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein; and the popular essay collections I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing.
As a screenwriter, Ephron was nominated three times for Academy Awards, for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally ... and Sleepless in Seattle, and was the rare woman to write, direct and produce Hollywood movies.
Meg Ryan was among the many actresses who said they loved working with Ephron because she understood them so much better than did her male peers.
The eldest of four children, Ephron was born in New York to screenwriters Harry and Phoebe Ephron, who moved to Beverly Hills, California, when she was four.
Words, words, words were the air she breathed.
If the best humour is born out of sadness, then Ephron was destined for comedy.
She was 15, she recalled, when her mother became an alcoholic, finishing off a bottle of scotch a night. Her father, too, was a heavy drinker, "sloppy, sentimental", although "somehow his alcoholism was more benign".
Determined by high school to be a journalist, Ephron graduated from the single sex Wellesley College in 1962, moved to New York and started out as a "mail girl" and fact checker at Newsweek.
A newspaper strike at the end of the year gave her a chance. Victor Navasky, the future editor of The Nation, was then running a satirical magazine called the Monacle. He was working on a parody of the New York Post, "The New York Pest", and asked Ephron for a spoof of Post columnist Leonard Lyons.
She succeeded so well that the newspaper's publisher, Dorothy Schiff, reasoned that anyone who could make fun of the Post could also write for it. Ephron was asked to try out as a reporter. Within a week, she had a permanent job and remained there five years.
Ephron began writing for Esquire and The New York Times and developed a national following.
Part of her gift was her fresh takes on such traditional subjects for women as food and fashion, like in the essay "The Food Establishment: Life in the Land of the Rising Souffle (Or Is It the Rising Meringue)."
By the 1970s, she had met and mated with Carl Bernstein, who teamed with fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward on prize-winning coverage of the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon.
They married in 1976, and had two children, but love soon turned to hate - and matured into art. Ephron was pregnant with the second child when she learned Bernstein was having an affair, a betrayal that had its rewards, once she stopped crying.
She wrote Heartburn, later a film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson and directed by Mike Nichols, with whom she collaborated often. Bernstein threatened to sue.
Another perk from her time with Bernstein: She sussed out that "Deep Throat," the unnamed and unknown Watergate source, was in fact FBI official Mark Felt. She would allege that she told countless people about Felt, who did not acknowledge his role until years later.
Ephron was married three times: to Dan Greenberg, Bernstein and, quite happily, to Nicholas Pileggi.