Alvin Sargent, an Oscar-winning screenwriter whose career ran a frankly ludicrous gamut of genres, with some remarkable degrees of success, has died. Sargent—who won Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay for 1977's Julia, and for 1980's much celebrated portrait of all-consuming, family-destroying grief, Ordinary People—was 92.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, Sargent was born in Philadelphia, and originally broke into the writing world via TV, where he penned scrips for shows like Route 66 and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1966 he co-wrote the Shirley MacLaine comedy Gambit (not that Gambit), working with prolific comedy writer Jack Davies to plan out the film’s heist-based and farcical plot. With a foot in the cinematic door, he worked prolifically in film for the next several decades, bouncing from dramas like Gregory Peck’s I Walk The Line (1970), to Peter Bogdanovich’s con artist caper Paper Moon (1973), to the Bill Murray goofiness of What About Bob? and the full-on, high-flying superhero action of movies like Spider-Mans 2, 3, and The Amazing. (Yes, that Spider-Man.)
Despite his superhero successes—there are plenty of people who’ll still argue that Spider-Man 2 is among the genre’s highest accomplishments, dialing into the core of what makes Peter Parker’s ever-tragic story ring true—Sargent will likely always be remembered, primarily, for Ordinary People.
Working from the novel by Judith Guest, Sargent sketched out the complicated, corrupted dynamics of the tortured Jarrett family, filling their mouths with a series of bitter, heartbroken speeches that lay out a painfully bleak vision of what love can, and cannot, do. Providing the template for career-defining performances from Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore—the latter winning an Oscar of her own—Sargent’s script is one of the purest expressions of the raw, destructive power of grief that’s ever made it to film.
Sargent’s last credited screnplay was 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man. He reportedly died of natural causes this week in his Seattle home.