Stephen J. Rivele Dies: Oscar-Nominated ‘Nixon’, ‘Ali’ Screenwriter Was 75

Stephen J. Rivele Dies: Oscar-Nominated ‘Nixon’, ‘Ali’ Screenwriter Was 75

Stephen J. Rivele, the screenwriter whose 1995 collaboration on Nixon with Oliver Stone and longtime writing partner Christopher Wilkinson earned the trio an Oscar nomination, died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Pasadena, California, on May 17. He was 75.

His death was announced by son Eli Rivele and Wilkinson.

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A published author, playwright and poet, Rivele shared a 30-year career with Wilkinson. In addition to Nixon, their credits include Ali, the 2001 Muhammad Ali biopic starring Will Smith and co-written by director Michael Mann and Eric Roth; Copying Beethoven, the 2006 drama starring Ed Harris as the great composer; and Birth of the Dragon, the 2016 martial arts film with Philip Wan-lung Ng as Bruce Lee.

Rivele and Wilkinson had story credits for such other notable biopics as Miles Ahead (2015), directed by and starring Don Cheadle as jazz giant Miles Davis; and Pawn Sacrifice (2014), with Tobey Maguire as chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer.

Born May 6, 1949, in Philadelphia, Rivele, in 1975, became the first American student accepted at the Paris Film Conservatory.He also studied with French film director Eric Rohmer at the University of Paris, receiving a French master’s of fine arts degree in film directing.

Returning to the United States, he founded Philadelphia’s Performing Arts Theater with actor Jon Polito, writing and directing plays that were produced in Philadelphia, New York, and London. During this period, he also worked as a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Eagles, documenting their 1977 season.

A fascination with the JFK assassination spurred a series of magazine articles and his first book, Death and Discovery. A second book, 1990’s The Plumber about a witness to a Philadelphia mob killing, was sold to Universal Pictures, launching Rivele’s Hollywood career.

Throughout his screenwriting career, Rivele continued to write books and plays, with published works including Lt. Ramsey’s War, Dark Genius, The Mothershed Case, A Book of Days, Vice, Singer in the Land of Night and poetry collection Desert Songs. His play, The Wes and Jane Show, was staged at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA.

Rivele is survived by sons Eli and Nicholas; partner Christine; grandchildren Lili and Jo; and extended family.


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