LOS ANGELES — Melissa Mathison, the screenwriter who crafted the enchanting worlds of iconic family films including “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” has died. She passed away Wednesday at age 65 after a bout with neuroendocrine cancer, her sister, Melinda Mathison Johnson, confirmed.
The LA 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,” which was released as a feature length film in 1979.
Throughout her more than 30-year career, she often collaborated with producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall and worked with directors like Frank Oz on “The Indian in the Cupboard” and Martin Scorsese on “Kundun.”
But history will most fondly remember her for fleshing out the story of that friendly, homesick alien E.T. The film, directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1982, would become one of the highest-grossing of all time.
“Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave ‘E.T.,’ ” said Spielberg in a statement.
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.
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.
Mathison was married to Harrison Ford for 21 years before they divorced in 2004. They have two children.