Alvin Sargent, Oscar-winning screenwriter of ‘Ordinary People,’ dies at 92

“Spider-Man 3" After Party At The 2007 Tribeca Film Festival
Screenwriter Alvin Sargent with his longtime companion, producer Laura Ziskin, at the “Spider-Man 3" premiere after-party in 2007.
(Evan Agostini / Getty Images)

Alvin Sargent, a versatile and prolific screenwriter whose work spanned a wide range of genres and who won two Oscars for the films “Julia” and “Ordinary People,” has died at age 92.

Sargent died of natural causes on Thursday at his home in Seattle, his representatives confirmed.

Equally adept with dramas, thrillers and comic-book movies, Sargent had a particular talent for translating literary works to the screen.

He earned his first of three Oscar nominations for his screenplay for director Peter Bogdanovich’s Depression-era dramedy “Paper Moon,” which Sargent adapted from the 1971 Joe David Brown novel “Addie Pray.” The film made history when its 10-year-old star, Tatum O’Neal, became the youngest actress ever to win a competitive Oscar for her performance as a young con artist being tutored by an adult one, played by her real-life dad Ryan O’Neal.


Sargent went on to win two adapted screenplay Oscars, first for the 1977 Holocaust drama “Julia,” which was based on writings by author Lillian Hellman, and then for 1980’s best picture-winning “Ordinary People,” an emotionally wrenching portrait of an upper-middle-class family disintegrating after the tragic loss of a child, which Sargent adapted from the 1976 novel by Judith Guest.

Born Alvin Supowitz in Philadelphia on April 27, 1927, Sargent cut his teeth writing for television in the 1950s and ’60s on series like “Ben Casey,” “Route 66,” and “Naked City” before earning his first big-screen screenwriting credit with the 1966 Michael Caine-starring caper comedy-thriller “Gambit.”

Later in his career, Sargent played a critical role in the development of the modern comic-book movie through his work on the blockbuster Spider-Man franchise. After doing uncredited work on the 2002 hit “Spider-Man,” Sargent went on to pen the scripts for 2004’s “Spider-Man 2,” 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” and 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Credited with bringing a grounded sense of humanity to the story of the teenage web-slinger Peter Parker, Sargent worked on all of the Spider-Man films with his longtime companion, producer Laura Ziskin, to whom he was married from 2010 until her death in 2011.

In recognition of his six-decade career, Sargent received the Writers Guild of America’s lifetime achievement honor, the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement, in 1991.


Ever tireless in his search for a good story, Sargent — whose other credits include such films as the 1978 drama “Straight Time,” the 1991 comedy “What About Bob?” and the 2002 thriller “Unfaithful” — was known to crack, “When I die, I’m going to have written on my tombstone, ‘Finally, a plot!’ ”

Twitter: @joshrottenberg

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