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Image: Erich Segal
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Segal (pictured here in 1970) wrote his novel about a young couple dealing with love and bereavement in 1969 when he was a classics professor at Yale.
updated 1/19/2010 5:29:48 PM ET 2010-01-19T22:29:48

Erich Segal, the author of the hugely popular novel "Love Story," has died of a heart attack, his daughter said Tuesday. He was 72.

Francesca Segal said her father died Sunday at his home in London. She said he had suffered from Parkinson's diease — a neurological condition that affects movement — for 25 years. His funeral was held in London on Tuesday, she said.

Segal was a Yale classics professor and screenplay writer when he turned a proposed movie about two college students — preppy Oliver and smart-mouthed Jenny — into a novel. Published in 1970, “Love Story” was a weeper about a young couple who fall in love, marry and discover she is dying of cancer. It was a million seller guaranteed to make readers cry and critics scream.

A much bigger audience caught up with the film version, which starred Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw. Directed by Arthur Hiller, with a plaintive, Henry Mancini-composed theme song that wouldn't quit, “Love Story” gained seven Oscar nominations — including one for Segal for writing the screenplay, as well as for best picture, best director and best actor and actress. It won one Oscar, for best music.

Segal also wrote a sequel, “Oliver's Story,” published in 1977, and made into a film, with O'Neal again in the lead male role. Segal would later say that Oliver was based in part on a couple of Harvard undergraduates who later became quite well known: Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones. (He disputed reports that Jenny was based on Gore's future wife, Tipper).

He was adored, and mocked. The famous “Love Story” line — “Love means never having to say you're sorry” — became a national catchphrase, but provided endless fodder for jokes. John Lennon countered that "Love means having to say you're sorry every 15 minutes."”

Even O'Neal parodied his earlier role. In the comedy “What's Up Doc?”, he responded to the famous line with the riposte, “That's the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

A rabbi's son, born in New York City in 1937, Segal also had a long, distinguished academic career in classics, gaining a doctorate at Harvard and teaching at Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth while writing era-defining screenplays and novels. He worked on surreal popular works like the 1968 screenplay to the animated Beatles film “Yellow Submarine” while also publishing works on Greek tragedy, Latin poetry and ancient athletics.

At his funeral, his daughter Francesca spoke of the knowledge that had been destroyed by Parkinson's disease.

“In (Tom) Stoppard's Arcadia, Thomasina mourns the burning of the library of Alexandria and the losses of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides — all of Aristotle's own library destroyed. And the image has for years made me think of my father, all his erudition and knowledge and wit and puns and stuff consumed in the flames of neurological disease,” she said in a eulogy she delivered at his funeral and later e-mailed to the AP.

In the eulogy, she added: “That he fought to breathe, fought to live, every second of the last 30 years of illness with such mind-blowing obduracy, is a testament to the core of who he was — a blind obsessionality that saw him pursue his teaching, his writing, his running and my mother, with just the same tenacity. He was the most dogged man any of us will ever know.”

Segal was an honorary fellow of Wolfson College at Oxford University.

He is survived by his wife, Karen James, and daughters Francesca, 29, and Miranda, 20.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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