William Hjortsberg, writer behind Legend and Angel Heart, dies at 76

'Legend' and 'Angel Heart,' creations of the writer William Hjortsberg, who has died aged 76 (credit: Universal/Sony)
‘Legend’ and ‘Angel Heart,’ creations of the writer William Hjortsberg, who has died aged 76 (credit: Universal/Sony)

The novelist and screenwriter William Hjortsberg has passed away at the age of 76, from pancreatic cancer, multiple outlets report.

Born in New York in 1941, Hjortsberg passed away at his home in Livingston, Montana on 22 April 2017, but the news has only just reached the attention of the wider news this weekend. As sad as this may be, it’s perhaps unsurprising that it would take so long for the news to spread, as the writer had long since withdrawn from Hollywood after a brief but illustrious dalliance with the film industry.

Primarily a novelist, having published his first book ‘Alp’ in 1969, Hjortsberg moved into screenwriting in the late 1970s. His most high profile work came when he collaborated with Ridley Scott on the director’s 1985 fairy tale movie ‘Legend.’

Not unlike Scott’s earlier film ‘Blade Runner,’ critics and audiences did not fully embrace ‘Legend’ on release. However, the film has long since developed a strong cult following. It is notable for giving Tom Cruise one of his earliest major leading roles, but is surely best remembered for Tim Curry’s unforgettable performance (aided substantially by Rob Bottin’s Oscar-nominated special make-up effects) as the demonic Lord of Darkness.

William Hjortsberg, 1941 - 2017 (credit: Katakis)
William Hjortsberg, 1941 – 2017 (credit: Katakis)

Hjortsberg’s only other major film was 1987’s ‘Angel Heart,’ an adaptation of his 1978 novel ‘Falling Angel,’ written for the screen and directed by Alan Parker. Another film which under-performed on release but developed a reputation over time, ‘Angel Heart’ is a very unusual and effective blend of film noir and supernatural horror, with Mickey Rourke giving one of his best performances in the lead, and a memorable supporting turn from Robert De Niro.

Following this, Hjortsberg did not write any more produced scripts, nor were any more of his books adapted for the screen. He published his last novel, ‘Mañana,’ in 2015 – the same year that ‘Fallen Angel’ was brought to the New York stage as an opera.

Hjortsberg is survived by his wife and two children, to whom we extend our deepest sympathies.

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