Wendy Wasserstein Dies at 55

Wendy Wasserstein Dies at 55
Gino Domenico/AP

01/30/2006 AT 12:00 PM EST

Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein has died, her agent Phyllis Wender said Monday. She was 55.

The playwright, who had been battling cancer in recent months, died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Lincoln Center Theater spokesman Philip Rinaldi said. Andre Bishop, head of the Lincoln Center Theater and a friend of Wasserstein, said the cause of death was lymphoma, the Associated Press reports.

Wasserstein is best known for her plays The Heidi Chronicles and The Sisters Rosensweig, which tackled complex subjects such as love, motherhood, marriage and sibling relations – often against a backdrop of feminism.

In The Heidi Chronicles, which won a Tony for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1989, its heroine is followed on a 20-year journey during which she changes her attitudes about herself, men and other women.

"When I wrote Heidi I was 35, I had just written a movie for Spielberg that didn't work out, I wasn't married, and I was beginning to feel like the odd man out at baby showers," Wasserstein told PEOPLE in 1990. "I didn't know whether the sacrifices I had made were worth the road I was taking. So I decided to write a play about all that. "

Wasserstein's most recent work, Third, ended a New York run on Dec. 18, 2005. Dianne Wiest played the central character, a college professor.

Born on Oct. 18, 1950, Wasserstein grew up first in Brooklyn in what she has called "a nice, middle-class Jewish family," and later in Manhattan. She attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and then got her graduate degree from the Yale School of Drama.

She once said that her parents had hoped she'd meet a doctor or a lawyer at the Ivy League university. "I guess they thought I'd be writing plays in the library of the medical school," Wasserstein quipped.

In 1999, at age 48, Wasserstein had a daughter, Lucy Jane, born three month prematurely. The playwright was single at the time and did not disclose the name of the baby's father.

"My 50s are … about being a mother and the joy of my daughter Lucy Jane and about loss. Real loss. My sister Sandra died of breast cancer at 60, so I know about things I didn't know about before. My father died two years ago, and then my friend (director) Gerald Gutierrez died. He was 53," she told Time magazine last year. "I think if you experience loss, you also on some level try to treasure joy. It can be as simple as going to the ballet or being with your child."

Wasserstein is survived by her daughter Lucy Jane; her mother, Lola; a sister, Georgette Levis; and her brother, Bruce Wasserstein, chairman and chief executive of Lazard LLC.

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