William Goldman, Oscar-Winning Screenwriter of ‘Butch Cassidy’ and ‘All the President’s Men,’ Dies at 87

Writer William Goldman at the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves NBA game at Madison Square Garden on December 23, 2003 in New York. (Credit: Ray Amati/Getty Images)

Writer William Goldman at the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves NBA game at Madison Square Garden on December 23, 2003 in New York. (Credit: Ray Amati/Getty Images)

Badly hung over, the detective rises from a fold-out couch in his office. He turns off the TV that has been on all night, dunks his head in ice water, shuffles into the kitchen and prepares a fresh coffee filter, only to realize he is out of grounds.

He opens his wastebasket. Spies yesterday’s filter. Hesitates … and fishes it out. He gulps from his mug with an expression of revulsion and resignation, imparting everything the viewer needs to know about his life. The rotten coffee is the least of his problems.

That opening scene, from the 1966 mystery film “Harper” starring Paul Newman, is widely considered a masterpiece of screenwriting, revealing depths of character without a single word.

It was the work of novice screenwriter William Goldman, who went on to become a towering craftsmen of the movies – winning Academy Awards for the convention-flouting Western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) and the Watergate thriller “All the President’s Men” (1976) and adapting his fantasy sendup novel “The Princess Bride” into a generational touchstone in 1987. He died Nov. 16 at 87 at his home in Manhattan of complications from colon cancer and pneumonia, said his daughter Jenny Goldman.

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