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'Love Story' author Erich Segal dies at 72

January 19, 2010 |  1:02 pm

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Years before NBC's "ER" and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" came along, Erich Segal, who died Sunday at 72 of a heart attack, was writing all about doctors and where compassion fits -- or doesn't -- into their medical school training in his 1988 novel "Doctors."

But it wasn't "Doctors" that struck the deepest cultural chord. That honor was reserved for his earlier novel, 1970's "Love Story," which gave us the pairing of two Ivy Leaguers, Oliver Barrett IV and Jenny Cavilleri (played by Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw in the 1970 film), and has been the source of his lasting fame.

For generations of readers, that novel/film has been synonymous with two words: "romance" and "tragedy." (I can well remember my own relatives sitting around the kitchen table, asking one another, "Have you read it yet?" and then sighing deeply and clutching their chests as they talked about it.) When you look at his many novels, Segal was in some ways the patriarch of a genre -- call it "bereavement fiction" -- that today includes novelist Nicholas Sparks (whose weepy books dominate bestseller lists nationwide). But in comparison with Sparks' stories, Segal's have far more depth.

Just consider: In one of his incarnations, Segal was a writer with wide-ranging interests who took on, in the fictional arena, issues of death, dying and grief calibrated to appeal to a broad audience. But he was also a TV commentator; a screenplay writer; a professor of the classics; a translator of the ancient Greeks and Romans. He was a fellow of Wolfson College at Oxford University, where a funeral was held today. Leaving readers crushed and teary-eyed might be enough for some -- for Segal, it was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

-- Nick Owchar

Photo: Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw in Erich Segal's "Love Story." Photo credit: Paramount Pictures


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