When Julianne Moore won the Oscar for Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards, the couple who co-directed Still Alice, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, watched from a hospital room in Downtown Los Angeles.
Glatzer, who suffered from ALS – also known as Motor Neuron Disease – and directed Still Alice with the help of a text-to-speech iPad app mounted on his wheelchair, had developed respiratory problems and gone into cardiac arrest days before the ceremony. He recovered to celebrate Moore’s win with the champagne his husband had smuggled into the hospital. But on Tuesday, four years after he was diagnosed with the condition, he died aged 63.
Glatzer and Westmoreland met in 1995, married in 2013 and made four films together, including The Fluffer (2001), the Errol Flynn biopic The Last of Robin Hood (2013) and Quinceañera (2006), about a pregnant Latina teenager in Echo Park, the LA area where the couple lived.
“I am devastated,” Westmoreland said. “Rich was my soul mate, my collaborator, my best friend and my life. Seeing him battle ALS for four years with such grace and courage inspired me and all who knew him. In this dark time, I take some consolation in the fact that he got to see Still Alice go out into the world. He put his heart and soul into it and the fact that it touched so many people was a constant joy to him.”
Still Alice stars Moore as an Ivy League professor struggling with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The actress thanked the directors as she accepted her Oscar, saying: “When Richard was diagnosed with ALS, Wash asked him what he wanted to do. Did he want to travel? Did he want to see the world? And he said he wanted to make movies.”
The production was accelerated by Glatzer’s physical decline. In March 2014, Moore took a break from filming the latest Hunger Games to return to New York and make the drama in three weeks. By the time the film wrapped, Glatzer was unable to speak or use his arms, and communicated by tapping his big right toe on his iPad. He was none the less on set every day.
In an interview, Glatzer said reading the novel by Lisa Genova on which Still Alice is based, had been difficult since it portrays a character going through a comparable, inexorable deterioration. “It just cut too close to the bone,” he said. “But once I’d finished it, I felt determined to make a movie. It really resonated with me.” Moore later credited Glatzer’s experience with informing her performance.
Born in New York in January 1952, Glatzer developed his love of movies at a young age. He also produced reality TV programmes, including America’s Next Top Model.
Before Glatzer’s death, Westmoreland said Still Alice was also about people who care for those with degenerative conditions. “I myself am inspired to do better, to serve better, to love better, to be more emotionally present – no matter how tough the days can be.”