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Robert Towne, Oscar-Winning Screenwriter of ‘Chinatown,’ Dies at 89

Robert Towne, the acclaimed screenwriter whose work shaped the landscape of American cinema in the 1970s and beyond, passed away on Monday, December 4, 2023, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 89 years old.

His publicist, Carri McClure, confirmed his death, stating that Towne was surrounded by family in his final moments. The cause of death was not disclosed.

A Career Defined by Excellence

Towne’s illustrious career spanned several decades, during which he crafted some of the most memorable screenplays in Hollywood history. His crowning achievement came with the 1974 neo-noir masterpiece “Chinatown,” for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Other notable works include:

  • Shampoo” (1975)
  • The Last Detail” (1973)
  • Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984)

These scripts earned him three additional Oscar nominations, cementing his status as one of the industry’s most respected writers.

The Auteur Among Screenwriters

In an era when Hollywood began to recognize the artistic contributions of directors, Towne stood out as a rare “auteur” among screenwriters. His work, particularly “Chinatown,” became a model for the craft, showcasing his ability to bring a deeply personal and influential vision of Los Angeles to the screen.

Collaborations with Hollywood Icons

Towne’s close friendships with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson led to fruitful collaborations that defined the cinema of the 1960s and ’70s. These partnerships allowed him to work on projects where artists held unprecedented creative control, resulting in some of the most celebrated films of the period.

Recognition and Legacy

In addition to his Oscar win and nominations, Towne received the Writers Guild of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, acknowledging his significant contributions to the art of screenwriting.

Robert Towne’s passing marks the end of an era in Hollywood. His ability to elevate the role of the screenwriter and his unique portrayal of Los Angeles will continue to influence filmmakers and writers for generations to come.

He is survived by his family, who were with him in his final hours. Funeral arrangements have not been announced at this time.

Robert Towne’s life and work remind us of the power of words in cinema and the enduring impact of a truly gifted storyteller. His legacy will live on through the timeless films he helped create.

Robert Towne, Oscar-Winning Screenwriter of 'Chinatown,' Dies at 89_4.1