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Richard Glatzer dies at 63; filmmaker co-directed 'Still Alice'

Richard Glatzer, who wrote and directed 'Still Alice' with his partner, dies of ALS weeks after Oscar ceremony

Filmmaker Richard Glatzer watched the Oscars this year from his room at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles with his husband, Wash Westmoreland. Too weak from a four-year battle with ALS to attend the ceremony, the two watched as Julianne Moore, the actress they co-directed in "Still Alice," won an Oscar.

"When Richard was diagnosed with ALS, Wash asked him what he wanted to do," Moore said, accepting the lead actress award. "Did he want to travel? Did he want to see the world? And he said he wanted to make movies. And that's what he did."

Glatzer died Tuesday in Los Angeles of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Westmoreland confirmed. He was 63.

"I am devastated," Westmoreland wrote on his Twitter account. "Richard was my soulmate, my collaborator, my life. A true artist and a brilliant man."

Glatzer and Westmoreland met at a party in 1995, lived together in Echo Park and made four movies together, including "The Fluffer" (2001), the Sundance festival Grand Jury Prize winner "Quinceañera" (2006) and "The Last of Robin Hood" (2013).

"Still Alice," an adaptation of Lisa Genova's bestselling novel about a woman battling early-onset Alzheimer's disease, became their final and most commercially successful effort, winning strong reviews and Moore her first Oscar.

Making "Still Alice" took on an urgency as Glatzer's physical health deteriorated over the last year. Early in 2014, Moore requested time off from shooting the "Hunger Games: Mockingjay" movies. She returned to New York in March and made "Still Alice" in three weeks, with Glatzer using a text-to-speech app on his iPad to communicate. ("My arms were shot, but I was able to be on set every day," Glatzer told NPR.)

Though Alzheimer's and ALS could be seen as antithetical diseases, Glatzer and Westmoreland found commonality in the ways that both create barriers and challenge the afflicted to maintain one's sense of self.

"My medical condition made reading the book quite difficult for me," Glatzer said in the NPR interview. "It just cut too close to the bone. But once I'd finished it, I felt determined to make 'Still Alice' into a movie. It really resonated with me."

Glatzer was born Jan. 28, 1952, in Flushing, N.Y. He grew up in Westbury on Long Island and in Livingston, N.J., graduated from the University of Michigan in 1973 and later earned a doctorate in English from the University of Virginia. He traced his love for film to his childhood, and that interest manifested itself in a friendship with legendary filmmaker Frank Capra, resulting in extensive published interviews and scholarship.

He eventually moved to Los Angeles, working on the daytime reality program "Divorce Court." He funneled that experience into his first film, "Grief," a 1993 comedy-drama set in a tacky, tabloid-style syndicated series titled "The Love Judge."

Before "Still Alice," Glatzer and Westmoreland's most notable collaboration was "Quinceañera," a perceptive, authentic-feeling look at the aspirations and struggles of Mexican American immigrants living in Echo Park. They filmed the movie on location in their own house and neighborhood, using friends and neighbors as extras.

"We wanted a story that was realistic but at the same time very unusual," Westmoreland told The Times in a 2006 interview. "Something that took everyday life and pushed it a little further."

Nearly a decade later, the filmmaking duo pulled off another movie characterized by a family focus and humanism: "Still Alice."

"In this dark time, I take some consolation in the fact that he got to see 'Still Alice' go out into the world," Westmoreland said in a statement Wednesday, barely two weeks after the Oscar ceremony. "He put his heart and soul into that film, and the fact that it touched so many people was a constant joy to him."

In addition to Westmoreland, Glatzer is survived by his sister, Joan Kodner, and a daughter Ruby Smith.

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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