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Robert Towne, Oscar-winning screenwriter of ‘Chinatown,’ dead at 89

By Dan Heching, CNN

(CNN) — Robert Towne, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of a number of acclaimed movies, including the classic 1974 noir thriller “Chinatown” starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, has died. He was 89 years old.

The news was confirmed by Towne’s publicist Carri McClure, who said he died on Monday “peacefully at home surrounded by his loving family.” No cause of death was provided.

Towne won the Academy Award for best original screenplay for “Chinatown,” which last month celebrated 50 years since being released.

Towne enjoyed an enormously productive period in the 1970s, writing such films as “Shampoo,” starring Warren Beatty, and “The Last Detail,” also starring Nicholson. He was also well known as an accomplished script polisher and ghost writer, penning scenes for a number of movies on which he wasn’t credited, including “The Godfather.”

Towne also cowrote the screenplay for “The Firm,” starring Tom Cruise, and worked with the actor on the first two “Mission: Impossible” movies. Always in high demand, Towne wrote the “Chinatown” sequel “The Two Jakes,” directed by Nicholson, and served as a consulting producer on the Emmy-winning series “Mad Men.” Additionally, he directed four films, including 1988’s “Tequila Sunrise” starring Kurt Russell, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mel Gibson. Towne wrote the screenplay for that film as well.

He received a total of four Academy Award screenplay nominations, including three in a row for “The Last Detail,” “Chinatown” and “Shampoo.” The last came for 1984’s “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,” although Towne disliked the film so much that he had his name removed and was credited as P.H. Vazak, which was the name of his dog.

Born in Los Angeles, Towne said in an interview with Variety earlier this year, tied to the 50th anniversary of “Chinatown,” that as a screenwriter he liked writing for a particular star, as opposed to working on a script without knowing who would be playing the key roles.

“Having a real person to write for simply makes my task easier and more enjoyable,” he said.

A lifelong screenwriter hailed as a master of the craft, Towne also told Variety last month, regarding the changing trends and appetites of Hollywood and the viewing public, “Storytelling doesn’t stop simply because a culture uses different mechanisms. Audiences still want to believe. They’re simply more sophisticated, they’ve grown used to the medium of film so they’re not so easily beguiled.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Brian Lowry contributed to this report.

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