MAIN GF1 | GF2 | GF3 | Epic | Trilogy [ A | B ]

MARIO PUZO (1920-1999)

Please send donations to:
Good Samaritan Hospice, 655 Deer Park Ave, Babylon, New York 11702

Please send condolences to:
866 Manor Lane, Bay Shore, NY 11706

Post your wishes to the Message Board

This page will be updated often as things come in. Many contents are exclusive to this web site and are not to be reproduced in-full, nor quoted without permission.

Mario has been an inspiration to us all. He has created characters and worlds which will never die, and for that, he will live on forever in our hearts. Farewell, Godfather Puzo. May God bless you.
J Geoff Malta, Webmaster,
The Official Mario Puzo Library, The Godfather Trilogy

For Mario..Love, Carol (Eulogy)

Mario and Carol The Mario Puzo I knew was a husband, a father, a lover and a friend. He was kind and generous, good as any human being could be, brave and funny and smart.

He was completely non-judgmental about others and yet judged himself quite harshly - against the mythic heroes like King Arthur that he read as he grew up.

Mario valued harmony even more than truth, though he could spot hypocrisy in seconds. He believed that hurting another was the greatest "sin" and thought losing his temper unforgivable.

He believed in no special God, no dogma, and had no faith except in the basic goodness of humanity. He had what I see as and elegant empathy.

Mario enjoyed the things he did, like food, and traveling and gambling to excess. And though he distrusted religion, he lived as good and moral a life as anyone I've ever known.

He loved his family, he loved his friends, and me. He saw in every human being something very interesting and special and yet thought of himself as nothing special - a man just like any other except for his one God-given talent, writing.

He honored that and was fiercely committed to it. He once told me it was the only thing he'd ever fought for.

The foundation of his life was his family. They kept him safe and gave him wings.

Mario was on all counts both eccentric and authentic - and he always tried to be a "reasonable" man. But, in truth, he was so much more.

He was a man who dared to dream and make his dreams come true. And he was an ordinary man, but he lived life in an extraordinary way. I'll miss him.

Carol Gino, Mario's companion of 20 years.

"Geoff: Mario was a terrific writer, but even more important, he is perhaps the best example of how an artist can succeed beyond anyone's dreams by persisting, even after many false starts."
Harlan Lebo, author of The Godfather Legacy

Mario Puzo

By Francis Coppola

"I remember years ago reading a LIFE magazine article about Mario Puzo and the big success of his book THE GODFATHER. I'm not sure if I was already working on the film, but I remember the pictures of Mario Puzo and the story about him and his family. He seemed someone really familiar to me, someone I could have known in my own family, one of that great parade of my uncles and my father's cousins that I loved so much. I imagined what it would be like to actually meet and and get to know him, which was exactly what was to happen. He was this warm, funny, lovable, brilliant-in-as-few words-possible character. A real writer, someone respected by the best writers in our country, especially for his book THE FORTUNATE PILGRIM (which Mario spoke of as his best book). He was usually very relaxed, with great stories and wisdom pouring out of him. It was fun just to be in his presence. He loved to eat, even though he knew he shouldn't. A little wine -- not very much. And he was a New York Italian -- couldn't really speak the Italian language and his opinions about food were basic -- but enthusiastic. (He once voted me down in a cook-off spaghetti contest with Sergio Leone.) I kidded him about that ever after, and he would always smile and shrug.

"I always looked forward to working on the screenplays with him. We'd often do it by meetings in a Gambling Casino, usually with a stiff deadline (like, this weekend). Mario loved to gamble, and knew everything there was to know about it, (he even wrote a book about it) But he was a terrible gambler. I have memories of him sitting, dominating the roulette wheel, bored, pushing huge chips over toward a general area of the numbers board, and lose oo over and over. But then, shamed and beaten, we would go back upstairs to work, saying "We're losing thousands down here, but we're making millions upstairs!"

"I remember how he would "grade" my different drafts. Once in a description I wrote "Clemenza is in the kitchen, browning sausage in the olive oil." Mario crossed it out, with the note: "Clemenza is frying garlic in the olive oil..."Gangsters don't 'brown', gangsters 'fry'."

"He loved his family, Carol Gino and his children: Anthony, Dorothy, Eugene, Virginia and Joseph. He was living in a house in Bayshore L.I. where he had lived for 30 years.

"Mario Puzo was everything that the LIFE magazine showed, but in full-life dimension for me, and I will never forget him and already miss him. He's on my top ten list of serious American writers of his time; a wonderful man to know and love.

"I remember once we were being introduced to some tough looking characters, one of who took me by the collar and said "Remember, you didn't make him, he made you."

"P.S. for what it's worth, those stories about a Godfather IV in the works were totally false."

Francis Ford Coppola, July 3, 1999
from Zoetrope: All-Story

"I can't believe it. If it wasn't for Puzo there would be no Godfather movie or script, so I am very grateful to him."
John Martino, "Paulie Gatto"

Mario Puzo, the Author We Couldn't Refuse

By Jonathan Karp

In a decade as Random House's editorial consigliere to Mario Puzo, I never once saw him lose his temper or express any form of anger. He was an unusually serene and gentle man, characteristics that made the ruthlessness of his fictional characters all the more surprising.

I do, however, recall a rare moment of exasperation, one that strikes me as being the truest expression of who Mario Puzo, who died Friday, really was. It was the summer of 1996 and Mario, after years of public silence, had agreed to talk to journalists about his life and the writing of "The Last Don," his first Mafia novel since "The Godfather." Despite having created a cultural landmark, Mario was nervous about the interviews and asked me to be present for them.

The conditions for all of the interviews would be the same. They would be held in Mario's spacious Bay Shore home on Long Island, decorated simply with thick carpeting and framed posters of his books and movies. We would ascend to the second floor and sit on the couch where Mario dreamed up his tales of treachery and vengeance. After the conversation, we would descend to the dining room, where a generous assortment of cold cuts and fresh mozzarella would be served. In the adjacent living room, on opposite ends of the mantel, the reporter could see Mario's two Academy Awards for co-writing the screenplays for "The Godfather" and "The Godfather, Part II."

The moment of exasperation came when a journalist raised the inevitable question about the Mafia and Mario's personal connections. He was used to this line of inquiry and always had a disarming way of swatting down the question. (My favorite was his assertion that if he really did have connections, the film adaptation of his novel "The Sicilian" never would have been released.)

In this instance, though, Mario expressed utter bafflement with the persistence of the rumors. "I don't understand it," he said. "I'm a literary man." He said it firmly, with emphasis: "I'm a literary man."

Reading, he once told me, was the one pleasure that had not diminished with the passing years. Diabetes and heart disease had limited his mobility and curtailed his diet, but his appetite for books was inexhaustible. He spent thousands of dollars every year at the local bookstore, and his den was littered with everything from the writings of Dennis Rodman to a worn paperback copy of Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove," a book for which he expressed reverence on numerous occasions.

He read everything, from Anita Brookner to John Grisham, from Oscar Wilde to his personal favorite, Feodor Dostoevski, who shared his fascination with the hearts of villains and the villainy in all our hearts.

Mario was sometimes disappointed by current bestsellers, especially the ones with shallow characterizations and weak endings. When he was a struggling writer, he did book reviews for $50 apiece, but after his success with "The Godfather," he refused all assignments. He told me that he knew how hard novelists worked on their books and he couldn't bear to break their hearts, so he chose to say nothing at all. Once, after a phone conversation in which he criticized a current book, Mario called me back to apologize for speaking ill of a fellow author.

He was acutely aware of his own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. In his first two novels, "The Dark Arena" (1955) and "The Fortunate Pilgrim" (1964), Mario had labored over the lilt of his sentences and aspired to artistry, to the extent that he once refused a publishing house's offer because the publisher wanted a different ending. When those books failed to attract readers, he changed his approach and focused more on his skills as a storyteller. He was self-deprecating in describing this transition, and he often said he wrote "The Godfather" for the money. That was true, but it is equally true that Mario came to realize that his true gift was for creating mythic morality plays in which only the most ferocious and cunning would survive.

That was his view of life. He was fascinated by power and its use, and suspicious of all public displays of piety. During the Monica Lewinsky episode, he expressed sympathy for President Clinton, who, in Mario's estimation of human frailty, couldn't help using the power he had worked so fervently to attain. "The guy doesn't gamble. He doesn't drink. What else is he going to do?"

Mario spent the last three years of his life writing "Omerta" (Sicilian for "code of silence"), which he considered the final installment in his Mafia trilogy about power and morality in America. I would visit his home on Long Island to read the pages, and he would greet me, barefoot and in sweat pants.

As he aged, his round face had begun to resemble that of Vito Corleone at the end of "The Godfather," and Mario himself observed that in his hand gestures and facial expressions, he was behaving more and more like a don. When it became too difficult for Mario to use the stairs, he installed an elevator to take him from his bedroom to the kitchen. He would wave to me grandly from the elevator as he made his descent.

Mario, who was 78 years old, probably knew he wouldn't live to see the publication of "Omerta," but he was determined to finish the book. He wrote it as a gift to his longtime companion, Carol Gino, his five children and his nine grandchildren--a large brood that was intimately involved in his life and gathered frequently at his home. Mario said on several occasions that once he was done writing, "Then I can die." He thought a lot about mortality, and his later books are filled with wonderful scenes of old men confronting death. This is one of my favorites, from "The Last Don":

The world was turning crimson with light, and Gronevelt squeezed his nurse's hand to keep his balance. He could look directly into the sun, his cataracts a shield. He drowsily thought of certain women he had known and loved and certain actions he had taken. And of men he had to defeat pitilessly, and the mercies he had shown. . . . And he was happy he was leaving it all behind.

What Mario Puzo will leave behind are his stories--glorious, romantic myths of thieves and heroes, and the perplexing ambiguities that exist between them.

Jonathan Karp is a senior editor at Random House, which will be publishing "Omerta" in July 2000.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company. Used with permission of Jonathan Karp.

Jonathan Karp, Mario's editor at Random House

The Truth About Mario

Since I can't be with you today I may be the only one who dares to speak to the truth. Let's face it:

Mario was a freak.

He was a food freak. Nobody loved a good slice of pizza, a well cooked meatballs and pasta dish, a pungent New York City hot dog more than Mario. And Chinese food, too -- except for fish.

He was a book freak. Who on this planet has read more books than Mario? He devoured books like potato chips, he was the most read person I've ever known.

He was a family freak. Nobody cared more for, or took better care of, his family: his sons and daughters, his brothers and sisters, his nephews and nieces and their children and their grandchildren and his own grandchildren. And he also made every friend, man and woman, an honorary member of his family.

He was a cigar freak. Before the doctors put the kibosh on his smoking it seemed impossible to watch anyone derive more pleasure from puffing away on a stogie. And afterwards, has there been anybody this side of Cuba who chewed on costlier cigars without lighting them before tossing them away. And, of course, missing the waste basket.

He was an appreciation freak. Even though he always did more for you than you could ever do for him, he appreciated your small favors a thousand times more than you could ever appreciate his great kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity.

He was a gambling freak. Think of all the pit bosses and baccarat dealers in Vegas who could send their sons and daughters through college because of Mario's gaming habit.

Mario always wished he could have been a baseball player. With the name Puzo he certainly would have fit into the Yankee tradition of Lazzerri, Crosseti, DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Berra, and Pepitone. But tennis became the sport of his mature years and naturally he was a freak about it. He loved the game which, considering his stocky, writerly body, he played with an amazing grace and surprising skill. But then any effort Mario voluntarily undertook he performed with that same grace and skill.

He was a modesty freak. No matter how much both the world at large and his intimate friends would esteem and honor him it would always come to him as something of a shock and elicit that deeply humble and grateful smile.

Yes, Mario you were a freak. An aberration. A mutation. A rare example of just how fine and warm and wise and witty and endearing and noble and regal a fellow human being could be. You were a prince, Mario. A prince of freaks.

We are all so fortunate to have known you. Good night, sweet freak.

Josh Greenfeld, a dear friend of Mario's, a Hollywood screenwriter,
and an author of the Noah Books. His most famous screenplay was "Harry and Tonto"

Thank you to the following sites for linking to in their news stories:
Yahoo! News, CNN, MSNBC, BBC News

The Shame On You Award goes to Mr. Showbiz who took two images from Mario's site
without permission nor credit. They've since removed them rather than give credit. Sheesh.


Presented here for archival purposes only. Permission pending.


Saturday July 3 12:56 AM ET

'Godfather' Author Mario Puzo Dies At 78

BAY SHORE, N.Y. (Reuters) - Mario Puzo, author of the best-seller "The Godfather" which spawned the Mafia film trilogy, died Friday of heart failure at his Long Island home, his agent said. He was 78.

Puzo, who won Oscars for screenplays for "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II," had just completed his latest organized crime book "Omerta," his agent, Neil Olson, said.

Born in the tough New York neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen on Manhattan's West Side, Puzo wrote several other novels chronicling organized crime families, including "The Sicilian" (1984) and "The Last Don" (1996) which was made into a hit 1997 television miniseries.

"He had a great life. It's the true American immigrant success story, and it's reflected in his books," Jon Karp, Puzo's editor at Random House, told Reuters.

"His book are going to last for all time," Karp added. "For as long as people want a good story, they're going to be reading Mario Puzo."

But it was 1969's "The Godfather," which sold more than 21 million copies, with which Puzo would always be associated, although the author said he wished he had "written it better ... I wrote below my gifts."

Still, the saga of the Corleone family become one of the best-selling books of all time, and the films "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" both won the best picture Academy Award. The first film also won a best actor Oscar for Marlon Brando, whose portrayal of Don Corleone became one of his trademark roles.

It was a casting decision for which Puzo took partial credit.

"That was my suggestion," he told Larry King on CNN in an interview to promote "The Last Don."

"I had read somewhere that, and it may be true, that Danny Thomas wanted to play it, and no reflection on Danny Thomas but I got so scared that I wrote Brando a letter and he called me up and he told me that no studio would take him.

"I went back to Paramount and I said, 'Brando's the guy,' and they all said no. And then when (director) Francis (Ford Coppola) came on the film, he finessed them into accepting his decision."

Born in 1920 to illiterate Italian immigrants, he served in Germany during World War II and attended New York's City College on the G.I. bill. He started writing pulp stories for "Male" and other men's magazines and published his first novel in 1955, "The Dark Arena," to enthusiastic reviews.

His second book, "The Fortunate Pilgrim" (1964) which Puzo took nine years to write, was an autobiographical family novel about Italian immigrants and brought Puzo some of his strongest reviews.

Puzo himself said it was his best book, but when it did not bring in a lot of money, the author said he "looked around and I said ... 'I'd better make some money,"' and he set out to do just that, with a $5,000 advance from Putnam.

The result was "The Godfather," which became a seminal work in the American pantheon of popular literature and was the basis for three Hollywood films, with a fourth installment in the Corleone family saga rumored in recent weeks.

Puzo also wrote the screenplay or story for films that ranged from hits to flops, including "Earthquake" (1974), "Superman" (1978), "The Cotton Club" (1984) and "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" (1992).

But it was with "The Godfather" that he made his mark. Puzo explained the story's popularity this way: "It's wishful thinking. I think everybody would like to have somebody that they could go to for justice, without going through the law courts and the lawyers. 'The Godfather' was really, to me, a family novel, more than a crime novel," he added.

He admitted that the book came "from research," but was adamant that "I never -- people still think I am connected to the Mafia," but he swore he was not.

Puzo enjoyed what he called a "bourgeois life" with homes in Los Angeles and Long Island and frequent gambling trips to Las Vegas, augmented by avid tennis playing and sports enthusiasm.

Puzo, whose last novel "Omerta" (Sicilian for "code of silence") which his editor called "vintage Puzo" and will be published next year, is survived by his companion of 20 years Carol Gino and five children.

Associated Press

Friday July 2 8:34 PM ET

'Godfather' Author Mario Puzo Dies

By LARRY McSHANE Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Mario Puzo, who won two Oscars for his adaptation of his best-selling novel "The Godfather" and romanticized the Mafia with his depiction of the fiercely loyal and honor-bound Corleone family, died of heart failure Friday. He was 78.

The son of Italian immigrants, who wrote seven other novels and assorted Hollywood screenplays, died in his home on Long Island. He had just completed "Omerta," the third book in his Mafia trilogy, said Neil Olson, his literary agent.

Puzo was an obscure if critically acclaimed novelist when he sat down at his vintage manual typewriter in the late 1960s, determined to write a blockbuster that would pull him out of debt.

He succeeded. "The Godfather," published in 1969, sold 21 million copies worldwide and introduced the world to his Corleone family, who mingled old-world Sicilian values with new-world American violence.

Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplays for "The Godfather" and two sequels; they earned Academy Awards in 1972 and 1974 for their work, and the first two films became American cinematic classics.

The Corleones were brought to life on screen by Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, with James Caan, Al Pacino and John Cazale playing his sons Sonny, Michael and Fredo. In the sequel, Robert De Niro played the young Don. The two movies won a combined nine Oscars, including two for best picture.

The first screenplay contained some of the classic lines in film history, especially: "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" and "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."

Coppola called Puzo "an absolutely wonderful man," and said his death is "a personal loss."

Writer and Puzo friend Gay Talese said "The Godfather" struck a powerful chord.

"In an America that has lost touch with family life, 'The Godfather' book and 'The Godfather' films emphasized the importance of family, the idea of fidelity to family and vengeful reaction to those who are disloyal to family," Talese said.

In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, Puzo acknowledged that his portrayal of the Corleones, with their emphasis on honor and family, romanticized the thuggery and buffoonery of real-life mobsters.

"They're not my Mafia," he said. "My Mafia is a very romanticized myth."

Puzo's story of Mafia life actually wound up influencing the real thing. Gambino family underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, the turncoat antithesis of Puzo's tight-knit mob, once recalled the afternoon when he saw "The Godfather."

"I left that movie stunned," he remembered. "I mean, I floated out of the theater. Maybe it was fiction, but for me, then, that was our life. It was incredible. I remember talking to a multitude of guys, made guys, who felt exactly the same way."

Puzo was born Oct. 15, 1920, in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, the son of illiterate Italian immigrants. His father deserted a wife and seven children when Puzo was 12, and the youth took a job with the New York Central Railroad.

By age 16, Puzo had decided to become a writer - but World War II interrupted. After serving in Germany, Puzo came home and began writing pulp stories for men's magazines.

His literary ambitions were much higher, and he published his first novel, "The Dark Arena," in 1955. The Saturday Review praised Puzo as "a new talent."

Puzo spent nine years on his next book, "The Fortunate Pilgrim," an autobiographical piece about the Italian immigrant experience. Although cited as "a small classic" by The New York Times Book Review, it too languished.

Now 45 years old, $20,000 in debt, with a wife and five children, Puzo took a $5,000 advance from Putnam and opted to forgo literature for a best-seller. "'The Godfather' is not as good as the preceding two (novels)," he once said bluntly. "I wrote it to make money."

"The Godfather" arrived in 1969 and exploded to the top of the best-seller lists. After its success, Puzo was often asked if he had ties to organized crime - and his answer was always no.

"It might have been preferable to be in the Mafia," he said in 1996. "I'm glad I'm a writer, but it's hard work. Nobody likes to work hard."

His Oscar-winning work on the "Godfather" series led to other screenplays, including two Superman movies, "The Cotton Club," and "Christopher Columbus."

Puzo's other books included "Fool's Die," a 1978 effort on casinos; the No. 1-best-seller "The Sicilian" in 1984; "The Fourth K," a futuristic political thriller about a fictional member of the Kennedy family, in 1992; and "The Last Don" in 1996, a return to his favorite topic, the Mafia.

"The Last Don" became another runaway best seller and was the basis for a highly rated television miniseries. It was also the second book in his Mafia trilogy.

Puzo spent the last three years on "Omerta," about a mob family on the brink of legitimacy. "Omerta" is the word for the mob's code of silence; the book is due out in July 2000.

"It's vintage Puzo," said his editor, Jonathan Karp. "He was a virtuoso storyteller right up to the end."

When not writing, Puzo lived what he liked to call the "bourgeois life," splitting time between his homes in Los Angeles and Long Island. He loved tennis, sports and gambling in Las Vegas.

Puzo is survived by his children, Anthony, Dorothy, Eugene, Virginia and Joseph; a sister, Evelyn Murphy, and brother, Anthony Cleri, his companion of 20 years, Carol Gino; and nine grandchildren.

BBC News

Saturday, July 3, 1999 Published at 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK

Godfather creator dies

The best-selling American writer Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, has died at his home in Long Island, aged 78.

Puzo also wrote the screenplays for the three Godfather films, for which he was awarded two Oscars.

The Godfather, the saga of the fictional Corleone Mafia family, became one of the best-selling books of all time, selling more than 21 million copies worldwide.

Puzo, who is reported to have died from heart failure, had just completed his latest organised crime book, Omerta, which is due out in July 2000.

One of the first to pay tribute to Puzo was actor James Caan, who played Sonny Corleone in The Godfather.

"His talent was obvious," he said. "I had the good fortune of working with him on The Godfather and the misfortune of not knowing him better."

After the book's phenomenal success, Puzo was often asked if he had ties to organised crime - and his answer was always no.

"It might have been preferable to be in the Mafia," he once said. "I'm glad I'm a writer, but it's hard work. Nobody likes to work hard."

uzo said his portrayal of the Corleones, with their emphasis on honour and family, was "a very romanticised myth".

He charted the family's rise in the early years of 20th century America, its slide into organised crime, links to Sicilian traditions and the ultimate downfall of its leaders, destroyed by the very power they sought out.

But some gangsters disagreed with Puzo's own protestations that it was all fiction.

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, an "underboss" with the Gambino family once said he had been flabbergasted when he saw the film.

"I left that movie stunned," he remembered. "I floated out of the theatre. Maybe it was fiction, but for me, then, that was our life."

Puzo also wrote several other novels chronicling organised crime families, including The Sicilian and The Last Don.

Pulp fiction

The son of illiterate Italian immigrants, Puzo was born in the New York neighbourhood of Hell's Kitchen.

After serving in World War II, he began his writing career by penning pulp stories for men's magazines.

In 1955 he published his critically-acclaimed first novel The Dark Arena.

His next book, an autobiographical piece about the Italian immigrant experience, The Fortunate Pilgrim, was hailed by The New York Times as "a small classic". But it sold fewer than 5,000 copies.

But 45 years old, $20,000 in debt and with a wife and five children, Puzo opted to forgo literature for a best-seller.

"The Godfather is not as good as the preceding two (novels)," he once said. "I wrote it to make money."

He also said he wished he had "written it better".

Puzo enjoyed what he called a "bourgeois life" with homes in Los Angeles and Long Island and frequent gambling trips to Las Vegas. He was also a keen tennis player.

He is survived by his companion of 20 years Carol Gino and five children.

A private family service is planned for Monday.

His works of fiction included:

The Dark Arena (1955)
The Fortunate Pilgrim (1964)
The Godfather (1969)
Fools Die (1978)
The Sicilian (1984)
The Fourth K (1992)
The Last Don (1996)
Omerta (expected July 2000)

The Hollywood Reporter

Tuesday, July 6, 1999

Mario Puzo laid to rest; author of 'The Godfather'

By Stephen Galloway

Private funeral services were held Monday for Mario Puzo, the son of an illiterate, schizophrenic railroad trackman, who went on to win two Oscars for his work on "The Godfather" and its sequel, "The Godfather, Part II." Puzo died Friday of heart failure in his Long Island, N.Y., home. He was 78 years old. Puzo had suffered from diabetes and heart trouble for the last several years and underwent an emergency quadruple bypass in 1991. Still, his death caught many by surprise, especially since he had been in active talks to bring a fourth installment of the "Godfather" series to the screen, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Andy Garcia to star. Puzo is survived by Carol Gino and his five children, Virginia McLaughlin, Dorothy Ann Puzo (who directed the 1987 movie "Cold Steel"), Eugene, Anthony and Joseph.

E! Online

July 2, 1999, 12:25 p.m. PT

"Godfather" Author Mario Puzo Dies

by Joal Ryan

Mario Puzo, whose 1969 pulp novel The Godfather made a 50-year overnight success of its author, virtually invented the mob soap opera, and inspired the Oscar-winning film series, died today. He was 78.

Puzo succumbed to heart failure at his Long Island, New York, home, his agent said.

The writer suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1991, but recovered sufficiently to pen yet another gangster bestseller, The Last Don (1996). That novel also got the Hollywood treatment in the form of a top-rated TV miniseries in 1997.

Just last week, reports said Puzo, along with director Francis Ford Coppola, was in talks with Paramount Pictures about a proposed Godfather, Part IV. Actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Andy Garcia were said to be already "on board" for the project.

Puzo won a pair of Oscars for cowriting the screenplays of the first two Godfather movies with Coppola. The two men also collaborated on 1990's less-acclaimed The Godfather, Part III.

In a statement Friday, Coppola called Puzo a "wonderful man" and said he felt a "personal loss" at his friend's death.

The former government clerk was an in-demand screenwriter in the 1970s, coming into his own in late middle-age with scripts for blockbusters such as Earthquake (1974), Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), among others.

Prolific to the end, Puzo had recently finished his latest novel, Omerta, due to he published in 2000.

It is the murderous, yet alluring Corleone family of The Godfather that is Puzo's enduring legacy. He penned the original novel for a $5,000 advance--not a bad rate considering his first two novels had stiffed. Puzo supposedly used his mother, Maria, as the model for the story's imposing Don Vito Corleone (played in mumbling fashion by Marlon Brando in the first movie; and, by Robert De Niro in the second).

The book was an instant hit--as the first film would become three years later, introducing ominous catchphrases "It's not's strictly business," "Make him an offer he can't refuse," and "Sleeps with the fishes," into the pop-culture lexicon.

Puzo was 49 when The Godfather was published, finally distinguishing an as-yet undistinguished career. He never looked back, going onto million-dollar paydays for novels (including 1978's Fools Die) and scripts (a $1 million fee for 1984's The Cotton Club).

Born October 15, 1920, in New York City, Puzo is survived by five children.

©1999 J Geoff Malta