Arthur Miller, the playwright who explored the underbelly of the American Dream through the pie-in-the-sky eyes of Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman," has died. He was 89.
Miller died Thursday night of heart failure surrounded by family members and his girlfriend at his home in Roxbury, Conn., his assistant, Julia Bolus, said today. The Pulitzer Prize winner reportedly had been struggling with ill health in recent months. A friend told Newsday on Jan. 11 that Miller had been suffering from "a touch of pneumonia and chemo treatments for some form of cancer."
Miller's cannon of theatrical masterpieces includes "The Crucible" and "A View From the Bridge," but he'll also be remembered for standing up to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the McCarthy era, and for lighting up gossip pages with his five-year marriage to Marilyn Monroe.
No less controversial as an octogenarian, Miller acknowledged last year that he was dating 34-year-old painter Agnes Barley, who was 55 years his junior. The couple had been living together on the same 340-acre farm in Connecticut that he bought in 1956, after marrying Monroe.
"A bit of his legacy gets amplified by the pizzazz with which he lived his life," said entertainment critic Dean Richards. "But it's his warts-and-all study of who we are that will be remembered best years from now.
"Miller is, without a doubt, one of the top five most important playwrights of the 20th century."
The man who created Willy Loman had barely read a play until he attended the University of Michigan. He had been to the theater only twice as a child. Still, he went on to become one of the most influential dramatists in modern history.
Born in New York City's Harlem neighborhood on Oct. 17, 1915, Arthur Asher Miller had more interest in sports than school, once claiming he "never read a book weightier than Tom Swift" until he picked up "The Brothers Karamazov" just after graduating high school.
Miller was soon bent on studying drama in Michigan, where he had found a professor he admired, but his high school grades were awful, and his family had no money to spare. Instead, the young man ended up working in New York's garment industry for his father.
"He particularly loathed the vulgarity and aggressiveness of buyers who treated his father and salesmen with arrogant contempt," wrote author Benjamin Nelson in "Arthur Miller: Portrait of a Playwright." "And he became acutely aware of the meaning of self-respect."
With encouragement from his mother, a public school teacher, he saved for college and in 1934, he was admitted to school in Michigan on a probationary basis, working for the university as a dishwasher in his spare time and later as a night editor of the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper.
At Michigan, he met Mary Slattery, whom he would marry in 1940. The couple had two children, Jane and Robert. A football injury kept him from serving in World War II, and in the early 1940s, he wrote radio dramas while working as a truck driver and steamfitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
In 1944, his first play, "The Man Who Had All the Luck," opened to horrible reviews, and a year later, his novel "Focus," about anti-Semitism, failed to garner much attention. But two years later, he had a Broadway hit with "All My Sons," a tragedy about a desperate manufacturer who saves his business by selling faulty machine parts to the military.