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Joan Didion, acclaimed author and essayist, dies at 87

The National Book Award winner chronicled California counterculture in the 1960s and wrote "The Year of Magical Thinking," a classic about her grief following her husband's death.

Joan Didion, the acclaimed writer and essayist who chronicled 1960s counterculture in California and won the National Book Award for her classic memoir about grieving her husband's death, died at the age of 87 Thursday.

Didion, who won the 2005 National Book Award for nonfiction for "The Year of Magical Thinking," died at her home in Manhattan from Parkinson's disease, according to an executive at her publisher, Knopf, which confirmed her death to NBC News in an email Thursday.

Didion won the 2005 National Book Award for nonfiction for her classic "The Year of Magical Thinking."Neville Elder / Corbis via Getty Images

"Didion was one of the country’s most trenchant writers and astute observers," executive Paul Bogaards wrote in an email. "Her best-selling works of fiction, commentary, and memoir have received numerous honors and are considered modern classics."

“Joan was a brilliant observer and listener, a wise and subtle teller of truths about our present and future," Shelley Wanger, Didion's editor at Knopf, said in a statement. "She was fierce and fearless in her reporting. Her writing is timeless and powerful, and her prose has influenced millions."

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley and beginning as a research assistant at Vogue in the 1950s, the Sacramento native rose to prominence with the essay collection "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" in 1968.

The essays featured her unsparing impressions of the hippies in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district and other ruminations about California life. Her social and political commentary became a defining part of her body of work.

Didion speaks at an unspecified event at the College of Marin, Kentfield, California in 1977. Janet Fries / Getty Images

She followed that with another classic group of essays, “The White Album,” in 1979. Along with writers like Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson and Truman Capote, Didion was part of the group of “New Journalism” writers in the 1960s and ‘70s who melded literary fiction styles with nonfiction reporting.

Didion also turned her gaze inward, writing about her own struggles, including undergoing a psychiatric evaluation in a Santa Monica hospital that she detailed in “The White Album.”

She reached one of her highest levels of fame as a 70-year-old in 2005 when “The Year of Magical Thinking” became a bestseller that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Didion's acclaimed "The Year of Magical Thinking" was written in the wake of the 2003 death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne (pictured), while their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne (left) was in the hospital. The family is shown here in Malibu, California, in 1976.John Bryson / Getty Images

The book is about her facing the loss of her husband and writing partner, John Gregory Dunne, whom she married in 1964. Dunne collapsed and died of a heart attack at their table in 2003 while their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, was sick in the hospital.

"I suppose you always think that (grief) is in some way ennobling," Didion told Katie Couric on TODAY in 2005. "It's not particularly. You think of it as an orderly process moving from intense grief to acceptance or closure. And none of that happens."

Quintana died at 39 in 2005 from septic shock, just weeks before "The Year of Magical Thinking" was published.

Didion said on TODAY that she hoped the book will give people "a sense that it’s possible to live with a situation."

The bestselling memoir quickly became a book many people turned to themselves while working through grief or recommended to others working through the loss of friends and family. It also became a one-woman play on Broadway starring Vanessa Redgrave.

"I feel less crazy, but you never get over anyone’s death, anyone who's close to you, but it becomes part of the way you are," Didion said on TODAY about her husband's death. And I think this is becoming part of the way I am."

While she became synonymous with her home state of California, Didion also reported stories abroad, including the nonfiction work "Salvador" about civil war in El Salvador.

Didion also wrote screenplays with her husband, including the film "Panic in Needle Park," starring Al Pacino, "Play It as It Lays," with Anthony Perkins, and a remake of "A Star is Born," starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

Over the course of her career, she wrote five novels, 10 nonfiction books, and a play, in addition to numerous magazine articles and screenplays.