Arthur Miller Dead at 89
Arthur Miller, the American playwright whose works "Death of a Salesman," "All My Sons" and "The Crucible" made him one of the leading lights of 20th-century theater, has died. He was 89.
Miller died at home Thursday night of heart failure, his assistant Julia Bolus said Friday, according to The Associated Press. His family was at his bedside in Roxbury, Connecticut, she said.
Miller's plays often involved families coping with ethical and moral dilemmas. In 1947's "All My Sons," the background was war profiteering. In 1955's "A View from the Bridge," it was the clash of immigrant generations.
And in his most famous work, 1949's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Death of a Salesman" -- written in six weeks -- it was the question of loyalty and sacrifice, success and failure, both in business and among blood relations.
"A lot of my work goes to the center of where we belong -- if there is any root to life -- because nowadays the family is broken up, and people don't live in the same place for very long," Miller said in a 1988 interview. "Dislocation, maybe, is part of our uneasiness. It implants the feeling that nothing is really permanent."
Miller's plays became some of the most read and performed in the world.
Generations of schoolchildren have read and put on his 1953 play "The Crucible," a play about the Salem witch trials that was a thinly veiled view of the Red Scare. Miller was a staunch liberal and refused to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the McCarthy era.
"Death of a Salesman," another canonical work, received Broadway revivals in 1984 -- with Dustin Hoffman in the archetypal role of worn-down salesman Willy Loman -- and in 1999, with the bull-chested Brian Dennehy giving his interpretation. The former received a critically praised television airing; the latter won a Tony for best revival.
"I couldn't have predicted that a work like 'Death of a Salesman' would take on the proportions it has," Miller said in 1988. "Originally, it was a literal play about a literal salesman, but it has become a bit of a myth, not only here but in many other parts of the world."
Playwright Edward Albee told the AP that Miller had paid him a compliment, saying "that my plays were 'necessary.' I will go one step further and say that Arthur's plays are 'essential.' "
A writing life
Miller also became celebrated for his 1956 marriage to movie star Marilyn Monroe, hailed by tabloids as a classic meeting of beauty and brains. (Indeed, Miller -- with his owlish glasses and rugged good looks -- was considered the epitome of vital intelligence and a model for '50s intellectuals.)
The pair divorced after five years.
In a 1992 interview with a French newspaper, the AP reports, he called her "highly self-destructive" and said that during their marriage, "All my energy and attention were devoted to trying to help her solve her problems. Unfortunately, I didn't have much success."
The 1960 movie "The Misfits," with a screenplay by Miller, turned out to be Monroe's last film. Miller wrote "After the Fall" (1964), featuring a Monroe-like character, after her 1962 death.
"He was a big man and a deeply American man who was lucky enough to have extraordinary women in his life," Zoe Caldwell, a Broadway actress who played in Miller's "The Creation of the World and Other Business," told Reuters. "He had such a great life that you don't feel sad for Arthur."
Miller was born October 17, 1915, in New York. He enjoyed a middle-class upbringing, but his father, a clothing manufacturer, suffered losses during the Depression. Miller paid for college at the University of Michigan by saving money from jobs as a loader and clerk.
He won several awards for his writing in college, but his first Broadway play, 1944's "The Man Who Had All the Luck," was almost his last. The show closed after four performances.
"Fifty years ago I quit forever," he told CNN. "I had a disaster with my first play. I resolved never to write another one."
But he did, coming back with "All My Sons," about a businessman whose sale of defective airplane parts during World War II leads to tragedy. The play won the New York Drama Critics' Circle's best play award.
Two years later, he wrote "Death of a Salesman," the tale of Willy Loman, a man who has spent his entire life attempting to work his way up the corporate ladder -- only to be squeezed out by management and dismissed by his sons. Elia Kazan directed the Broadway production, which starred Lee J. Cobb as Loman.
The work became part of the American vernacular.
"I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him," Loman's wife says in one of the play's most-quoted speeches. "So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person."
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, "Death of a Salesman" won the 1949 Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. It is considered one of the finest works of the American theater.
Along with Tennessee Williams and William Inge, Miller was considered one of the dominant playwrights of the 1950s, a golden age of American theater. But his work tailed off in later decades, with only "After the Fall" and "The Price" (1968) -- the latter about two brothers who meet to dispose of their father's estate -- considered among his major works.
Miller, in turn, grew disenchanted with Broadway. In 1991, he opened a new play -- "The Ride Down Mount Morgan," eventually starring Patrick Stewart -- in London.
"There is an open terror of the critics (in New York) and of losing fortunes of money," Miller said in an interview that year, according to the AP. "I have always hated that myself. All in all, it seemed like we ought to do the play in London."
He returned to Broadway in 1994 with "Broken Glass." The play earned positive reviews and a Tony nomination, but couldn't capture an audience. In London, it won an Olivier award as best play.
Miller published an autobiography, "Timebends," in 1987. He also wrote the screenplay for the award-winning 1980 TV movie "Playing for Time," about musicians in a Nazi concentration camp.
He was much honored during his life, including a lifetime achievement award from the Tonys, a National Medal of the Arts and National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
"I always felt it was a deep tragedy that he never won the Nobel Prize," Robert Weil, executive editor of publisher W.W. Norton, told Reuters. "His plays were so universal and affected a world generation."
"He's been part of the cultural universe of this country since the war, and that's 60 years," Brian Dennehy -- who will be appearing in a London revival of "Death of a Salesman" in May -- told the AP. "It's most of our lives. It's a kind of shattering awareness that he's not going to be there, but his work will be there, thank God."
But if Miller appreciated all the honors, writing came from a much more personal place. Indeed, it was as natural -- and important -- as breathing.
"It is what I do," he said in a 1996 interview with the AP.
"It is my art. I am better at it than I ever was. And I will do it as long as I can. When you reach a certain age you can slough off what is unnecessary and concentrate on what is. And why not?"
Miller was married three times: to Mary Grace Slattery, to Monroe and to Inge Morath. He married Morath in 1962; they were together for 40 years, until her death in 2002.
Miller is survived by three children: Jane Ellen and Robert, with Slattery; and filmmaker Rebecca Miller, with Morath.