David Seidler, Oscar-winning writer of ‘The King’s Speech, dead at 86

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The Oscar-winning playwright and screenwriter David Seidler has died aged 86, after a celebrated career.

The British-American was best known for writing the scripts for the screen and stage versions of The King’s Speech. The 2010 feature was a critical hit, and for his efforts in bringing it to life, he won an Academy Award and took home two Baftas, including for ‘Best Original Screenplay’.

Seidler was born in London on August 4th, 1937, into an upper-middle-class Jewish family. When his family home was bombed during the Blitz in World War II, they relocated to Surrey before finally resettling in America. However, like many of his generation, he was significantly impacted by the all-encompassing nature of the conflict, and his life changed when they sailed across the Atlantic. The Seidler family’s ship was part of a convoy of three boats that didn’t all make it across the ocean. One of them, which carried Italian prisoners of war from North Africa, was sunk by German U-boats.

Not yet three, it was on this harrowing journey that Seidler developed a stammer, a reality that would make The King’s Speech highly resonant for himself and audiences. Notably, the story follows King George VI’s imminent arrival after his brother’s abdication. To help his succession, he works with Australian speech and language therapist Lionel Logue to cope with his stammer.

For Seidler, multiple forms of speech therapy failed to work until, at the age of 16, things changed, thanks to the help of a popular profanity. Depressed and resigned to what he saw as a future of stuttering for the rest of his life, in a rage, he uttered the ‘F word’, which he would later describe as the “naughty word”. Only two weeks later, he auditioned for his school play, effectively starting his career trajectory.

Seidler’s manager, Jeff Aghassi, confirmed to the BBC that he passed away in New Zealand on Saturday. “David was in the place he loved most in the world – New Zealand – doing what gave him the greatest peace, which was fly fishing,” Aghassi said. “If given the chance, it is exactly as he would have scripted it.”

Accepting his 2011 Oscar for ‘Best Writing, Original Screenplay’, Seidler dedicated it to “all the stutterers around the world”. He also thanked Queen Elizabeth II for “not putting me in the Tower for using the F word”.

Seidler worked on numerous celebrated projects in his time. These include the animated musicals The King and I, Quest for Camelot and Madeline: Lost in Paris. In 1988, he won his first Writers Guild award for Onassis: The Richest Man in the World.

The other most famous title in Seidler’s filmography materialised when he co-wrote Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 comedy-drama, Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Starring Jeff Bridges as titular inventor Preston Tucker, it follows the story of his attempts to produce and market the Tucker car – better known as the Tucker 48 – which caused a widespread scandal between the Big Three of American automobile manufacturing. It also led to accusations of stock fraud.

Famously, the Tucker movie started development in 1973 but encountered several obstacles, including the auteur’s American Zoetrope production company entering dire financial straits. It was later revived by a friend, Star Wars creator George Lucas, who served as executive producer.

At the time of his death, Seidler had numerous development projects, including feature films and limited series. He is survived by his children, Marc and Maya. 

Watch David Seidler’s Oscar speech below.

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