The American journalist and author Joan Didion died today (December 23) at the age of 87, it has been confirmed.
The writer’s cause of death has been confirmed as Parkinson’s disease in an email to the New York Times from Paul Bogaards, an executive at Knopf, Didion’s publisher. She died at her home in Manhattan.
Although Didion wrote several novels and screenplays over the course of her career, she is best known for her non-fiction work, including the 1968 essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem. That book included pieces on Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and ‘60s counter-culture in the US, like the scene at the time in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury.
In 1979, she published The White Album – another collection of essays – which included the titular piece detailing Didion’s life in LA and experiences including attending a recording session by The Doors and meetings of the Black Panther Party, and her interactions with Charles Manson follower Linda Kasabian.
Didion was born in Sacramento, California in 1934 and began her career as a research assistant at Vogue after winning the Prix de Paris essay contest that was sponsored by the magazine. In the decades that followed, her writing appeared in publications including Life, Esquire, The New York Times and many more.
She published her first book, a novel called Run, River, in 1963, followed by more fiction in the form of Play It As It Lays and A Book Of Common Prayer. In 2005, Didion wrote about the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne and the year that followed his passing in The Year Of Magical Thinking. Six years later, she returned to the subject of grief, writing about the death of her daughter Quintana, who had died months before Dunne, in Blue Nights.
She released her latest book South And West: From A Notebook in 2017, as well as a collection of essays called Let Me Tell You What I Mean earlier this year.
Over the years, Didion also penned several screenplays, many with Dunne. Her first, The Panic In Needle Park, was based on the novel by James Mills and starred Al Pacino and Kitty Winn. The film, which was released in 1971, was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival.
She and Dunne also wrote the first A Star Is Born movie alongside its director Frank Pierson. It starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the lead roles and won five Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
In 2017, her nephew Griffin Dunne produced a documentary about her titled The Center Will Not Hold, which streamed on Netflix and saw her discussing her career, approach to writing and personal life.
Didion received many awards and honours in her time, including the National Medal of Arts from then-President Barack Obama in 2013. Obama called her “one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture”.
Tributes have begun to pour in online for the influential writer. “Fare thee well Joan Didion. Thank you for your brilliant mind and extraordinary prowess with a pen,” Garbage wrote on Twitter.
Fare thee well Joan Didion. Thank you for your brilliant mind and extraordinary prowess with a pen. pic.twitter.com/L6CHPjoWdg
— Garbage (@garbage) December 23, 2021
“joan didion and eve babitz going in the same week seems equal parts baffling and like twisted proof of balance in the universe,” Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis wrote.
joan didion and eve babitz going in the same week seems equal parts baffling and like twisted proof of balance in the universe
— speedy ortiz ÷ sad13 ÷ sadie dupuis ÷ haunted guy (@sad13) December 23, 2021
“RIP the incomparable Joan Didion. One of my favourite writers and a huge influence on the entirety of The Art of Losing. Fare thee well x,” added The Anchoress.
RIP the incomparable Joan Didion. One of my favourite writers and a huge influence on the entirety of The Art of Losing. Fare thee well x pic.twitter.com/oW6napJuGY
— The Anchoress (@The_Anchoress) December 23, 2021
See more tributes below.
“It’s hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.” – Joan Didion pic.twitter.com/yDo8wyGd5L
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) December 23, 2021
Not Joan Didion & Eve Babitz in the same week 🥺 Heaven just got 2 incredible story tellers. Can’t help but be a bit envious of the angels listening in right now. No one spoke about Los Angeles like these two 💔 pic.twitter.com/zdkjAgdSM4
— Aly & AJ (@alyandaj) December 23, 2021
RIP Joan Didion. Another staggering loss. https://t.co/qvK8ybdztp
— roxane gay (@rgay) December 23, 2021
We knew it was coming but not today lord…deaths inn2021 have been so rude to black artists specifically.
Too much mourning for our heroes and our visionaries. And I know Miss Joan Didion wasnt black but ask almost ANY black lit girl and they’ll tell u she felt it.
RIP Joan D. pic.twitter.com/DTdM1W1swa
— NYT Least Relevant Notable of 2021 Jeremy O Harris (@jeremyoharris) December 23, 2021
— jenny lewis (@jennylewis) December 23, 2021
Deepest gratitude to Joan Didion for how she helped me during a brutal, dark time. And that’s not even her best book! If you’ve yet to discover her, today’s a good day to do so.💙
— rob delaney (@robdelaney) December 23, 2021
RIP Joan Didion. A singular genius and inspiration. For anyone who is interested see the Netflix doc ‘The Centre Will Not Hold’. Class. pic.twitter.com/YCT79lRJIU
— Johnny Marr (@Johnny_Marr) December 23, 2021
Seizing the moment & celebrating Joan Didion today ❤️ pic.twitter.com/wyFuHO8X7Y
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 23, 2021
R.I.P. Joan Didion, 1934-2021
"On the whole my attention was only minimally engaged by the preoccupations of rock-and-roll bands, but The Doors were different, The Doors interested me. The Doors' music insisted that love was sex and sex was death…" -Joan Didion pic.twitter.com/k6vDgXBrnN
— The Doors (@TheDoors) December 23, 2021