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Arthur Miller, playwright of `Death of a Salesman,' dies at 89

NEW YORK -- Arthur Miller, whose dramas of fierce moral and personal responsibility such as "Death of a Salesman" and "The Crucible" made him one of the 20th century's greatest playwrights, has died at the age of 89.

Miller, died Thursday night of congestive heart failure at his home in Roxbury, Conn., surrounded by his family, his assistant, Julia Bolus, said Friday.

For decades, the playwright, along with Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams, dominated not only American stages, but theaters throughout the world. Broadway marquees were to dim their lights Friday night at curtain time.

"It is the loss of a giant," said Robert Falls, director of the 1999 Broadway revival of "Death of Salesman" that starred Brian Dennehy as the iconic title character Willy Loman. "He made tremendous art."

Playwright Edward Albee, recalling how Miller once paid him a compliment by saying that Albee's plays were "necessary," said, "I will go one step further and say that Arthur's plays were `essential.'"

It was Loman and "Death of a Salesman," which took Miller only six weeks to write, that cemented his reputation when it opened on Broadway in 1949, starring Lee J. Cobb and directed by Elia Kazan. Loman was a man destroyed by his own stubborn belief in the glory of American capitalism and its spell of success.

"I couldn't have predicted that a work like `Death of a Salesman' would take on the proportions it has," Miller said in an interview 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."

Yet Miller had other powerful plays as well. "The Crucible," a 1953 drama inspired by the repressions of McCarthyism, told the story of the mass hysteria during the Salem witch trials. And there was "All My Sons" (1947), his earliest Broadway success, about a corrupt businessman who commits suicide after it is revealed he sold defective airplane parts.

Miller's marriage to film star Marilyn Monroe in 1956 gave the playwright a celebrity he tried to avoid.

In a 1992 interview with a French newspaper, 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 marriage, which ended in divorce, did provide material for two of his plays: "After the Fall" (1964), the story of a tempestuous singer not unlike Monroe; and his last major work, "Finishing the Picture," produced last year at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. A rueful, yet generous play, it dealt with the misbehavior of a film star on a movie set, similar to "The Misfits," which Miller wrote and which starred Monroe.

In 1962, he married his third wife, photographer Inge Morath. That same year, Monroe committed suicide.

Miller's success, so overwhelming in the 1940s and 1950s, seemed to wane during the next two decades, despite a well-received Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman" starring Dustin Hoffman, in 1984. But enthusiasm for Miller's work remained particularly strong in England, which marked his 75th birthday in 1990 with four major productions of his plays.

Nicholas Hytner, director of Britain's National Theatre, called Miller "the last of the great titans of the American stage" and said British audiences had embraced his work.

"We have felt more comfortable with the uncompromising morality of his world view than his compatriots," said Hytner, who directed the 1996 film adaptation of "The Crucible."

"America felt rebuked by him. Over here, we relish the ferocity of his arguments with the way things are."

Undaunted, Miller continued to write, even as he became increasingly disillusioned with Broadway. In 1991, he premiered a new play, "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan," in London -- the first time he had opened a play outside of the United States.

"It is what I do," he said in a 1996 interview with The Associated Press. "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?"

Among his later plays were "Broken Glass" (1994), a drama about a dysfunctional family that won respectful reviews on Broadway and a Tony nomination, but no big audiences. In London, it won an Olivier award as best play. "Resurrection Blues" had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in 2002. Set in an unnamed banana republic, the satire dealt with the possible televised execution of a revolutionary.

And Miller had a surprise hit with a New York revival of his first Broadway play, "The Man Who Had All the Luck." It lasted only four performances in 1944, but nearly six decades later, in a Roundabout Theatre Company production starring Chris O'Donnell, this family drama received positive notices.

David Richenthal, who produced the last Broadway revival of "Salesman," said recently that he and Miller were working on a London revival. It will go on as planned in May, directed by Falls and starring Dennehy and Clare Higgins.

Dennehy said not having Miller with them in London will put "a pall over it. We wished he would be there with us, although the last few months we knew it probably wouldn't happen.

"It's not just the play, he's been a presence in my life since I was 13. He's one of the great triumvirates of the American theater."

Born Oct. 17, 1915, Miller was one of three children in a middle-class Jewish family. His father, a manufacturer of women's coats, was hard hit by the Depression and could not afford to send Miller to college. A tall, imposing man with a gruff Brooklyn accent, Miller worked as a loader and shipping clerk at a New York warehouse to earn tuition money and eventually attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1938.

He wrote his first plays in college, where they were awarded numerous prizes. He also published several novels and collections of short stories. Miller also wrote several screenplays. Besides, "The Misfits," there was "Playing for Time," (1981) a controversial television movie about the women's orchestra at Auschwitz.

He also wrote a number of books with Morath, mainly about their travels in Russia and China.

Miller had two children, Jane Ellen and Robert, by his first wife, Mary Slattery, and he and Morath, who died in 2002, had one daughter, Rebecca, a filmmaker married to actor Daniel Day-Lewis.


AP National Writer Hillel Italie, and AP writers Ula Ilnytzky and John Christoffersen. 

Arthur Miller, the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright whose most famous fictional creation, Willy Loman in 'Death of a Salesman,' came to symbolize the American Dream gone awry, has died, his assistant said today. He was 89.
Arthur Miller, the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright whose most famous fictional creation, Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman," came to symbolize the American Dream gone awry, has died, his assistant said today. He was 89. (AP Photo)
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