Joan Didion passed away Thursday at her home in Manhattan, reports the New York Times. According to an email from her publisher to the Times, the beloved journalism icon and chronicler of Californian life died of Parkinson’s disease. She was 87.
As both an investigative journalist and a personal essayist, Didion was a leader in the New Journalism movement. She began her career writing for Vogue, where she penned essays like “On Self-Respect,” which she wrote to fit the magazine’s layout (to the exact character count) after another writer failed to file the assignment and while working on her first novel, Run, River. She went on to chronicle the cultural fabric of 1960s and ’70s California, largely the subject of two of her most celebrated essay collections, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album. Reporting on eccentric outsiders, the rapidly changing music and film industries, and her own psychiatric struggles, she established a highly personal style that’s widely credited with capturing the chaos, cynicism, and cultural crises of the era.
Throughout her journalism career, Didion also wrote screenplays with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, including an adaptation of her second novel, Play It As It Lays, and the Barbra Streisand iteration of A Star Is Born. She penned five novels (Run, River; Play It As It Lays; A Book of Common Prayer; Democracy; and The Last Thing He Wanted) and continued to publish both personal and investigative nonfiction works, moving on later in life to cultural criticism and political essays. Earlier this year, she published Let Me Tell You What I Mean, a book of 12 previously uncollected essays written between 1968 and 2000.
Famously, Didion wrote extensively about grief following Dunne’s sudden death in 2003 and the death of their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, who succumbed to septic shock only a year and a half later. Her memoir about Dunne’s death, The Year of Magical Thinking, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005. In 2011, she published Blue Nights, which focused on her daughter’s death just before The Year of Magical Thinking came out.
As Molly Fischer wrote of Didion for the Cut and New York, “She was ever the observer, surveying human folly from a deliberate distance, amazed and not amazed by what she saw.” Didion leaves an indelible legacy on journalism and writing at large.