LOS ANGELES » Richard Glatzer, who co-wrote and directed the Alzheimer’s drama "Still Alice" alongside his husband, Wash Westmoreland, while battling ALS, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 63.
Diagnosed in 2011 with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the pair took on the project of "Still Alice" in a very early stage of Glatzer’s disease.
During the 23-day shoot, Glatzer communicated with one finger using a text-to-speech app on his iPad. By the time of the press tour for the film in late 2014, Glatzer was only able to communicate by typing on the device with his big toe.
Their film earned star Julianne Moore her first Oscar for her portrayal of an academic suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. Unable to attend the ceremony, Glatzer watched Moore’s win Feb. 22 from a hospital, where he had been taken two days prior for respiratory problems. Westmoreland watched by his side.
"I am devastated. Rich was my soul mate, my collaborator, my best friend and my life," Westmoreland said in a statement Wednesday. He added that he takes consolation in the fact that Glatzer saw "Still Alice" delivered to the world.
"Richard was a unique guy — opinionated, funny, caring, gregarious, generous, and so, so smart. A true artist and a brilliant man. I treasure every day of the short twenty years we had together," he said. "I cannot believe he has gone. But in my heart and the hearts of those who loved him he will always be alive."
A New York native, Glatzer started out his career in academia, earning a doctorate in English from the University of Virginia before turning his attentions entirely to film and television.
He met Westmoreland in 1995. The couple collaborated on four films as co-writers and directors, including the 2006 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience winner "Quincea?era."
Glatzer also worked on a number of television shows including "Road Rules," ”Divorce Court" and "America’s Next Top Model."
But it was "Still Alice" that seemed to be Glatzer’s crowning achievement.
"It’s ironic that in my deteriorated state I’d be able to make a film that was creatively everything I’d ever wished for," Glatzer reflected to The Associated Press in late 2014 while promoting the film.
The parallels between Glatzer and their lead character’s degenerative diseases helped to inform the adaptation of author Lisa Genova’s best-seller.
"Many of the neurological appointments that Alice had in the book echoed appointments that Richard had had when they were testing to see if he’d had a stroke — like what’s today’s date, where are we, all that stuff. It was eerily similar," Westmoreland said during the same interview.
"Rich is an incredibly strong person, and never let the disease get him down. He always wanted to keep life as normal as possible," he added.
Moore was particularly moved by the similarities and how Glatzer’s condition made the story much more personal and emotional.
"It’s about the universality of our own experience and what we care about and that we all live and we all love and we all are going to go away some day. To look at that and to really examine that, but to also be present in it, is kind of an extraordinary thing to do. I think that’s what Wash and Rich are doing with this movie," she said.
While the logistics of co-directing a film while suffering from ALS proved challenging, the entire production was committed to supporting Glatzer throughout.
"We had a little personal agreement that Richard has to be heard, even if it’s inconvenient, even if it’s longer to wait," Westmoreland said.
Glatzer, who was in good spirits sitting next to Westmoreland, also weighed in.
"I felt very much heard by everyone, every day. And it’s so very important if you’re struggling with a disease like this to feel you still matter," Glatzer said.
In addition to Westmoreland, Glatzer is survived by his daughter, Ruby Smith; his sister, Joan Kodner, and her husband, David; and his nieces and nephews.