Southern's dark and often absurdist style of broad yet biting satire helped to define the sensibilities of several generations of intelligent writers, readers, directors and film goers. He is credited by journalist Tom Wolfe as having invented New Journalism with the publication of "Twirling at Ole Miss" in Esquire in 1962, and his gift for writing memorable film dialogue was evident in Dr. Strangelove, The Loved One, The Cincinnati Kid and Easy Rider. His work on Easy Rider helped create the independent film movement of the 1970s, in opposition to Hollywood film studios.
He frequented the Paris Cinematheque and saw jazz performances by leading bebop musicians including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. During this time he wrote some of his best short stories, including "The Automatic Gate" and "You're Too Hip, Baby". His story, "The Sun and the Still Born Stars" was the very first short story published in the Paris Review. Southern became closely identified with the Paris Review and its founders, Peter Matthiessen, H.L. "Doc" Humes and George Plimpton, and he formed a lifelong friendship with Plimpton. He met Pud Gadiot during 1952; a romance soon blossomed and the couple married just before they moved to New York City.
He frequented renowned jazz venues like the Five Spot, the San Remo and the Village Vanguard. It was in this period that Southern discovered and became obsessed with the work of British writer Henry Green. Green's writing exerted a strong influence on Southern's early work, and Green became one of Southern's most ardent early supporters.
Southern struggled to gain recognition in this period, when he was writing his first solo novel, Flash and Filigree. Only a few of his short stories were accepted, and he was rejected by dozens of leading magazines and journals. Here, as in Paris, Southern was almost entirely supported by his wife Pud, but their relationship fell apart within a year of their arrival in New York and they were divorced in mid-1954.
During 1954-55 Southern met two of his literary heroes, William Faulkner and Nelson Algren, author of The Man With The Golden Arm. Southern interviewed Algren for the Paris Review in the autumn of 1955 and they became good friends; they remained in touch after the interview and Algren became another of Southern's early champions.
Southern's fortunes began to change after he was taken on by the Curtis-Brown Agency in mid-1954; through them he had three of his short stories accepted by Harper's Bazaar. They published both "The Sun and the Still-born Stars" and "The Panthers" in the same edition in late 1955, and "The Night Bird Blew for Doctor Warner" was featured in the January 1956 edition.
In October 1955 Southern met model and aspiring actress Carol Kauffman; a romance soon developed and they were married on 14 July 1956. In December 1955 Southern attended the funeral of jazz legend Charlie Parker, who had died on 5 December, aged 35.
In Paris, Maurice Girodias offered Southern $1000 to write a "dirty" novel for Olympia Press and he was advised by his agents to use a pseudonym, so that it would not affect his reputation and chances of future work. Southern began work on Candy in early 1957, but his enthusiasm for the project soon waned so he brought in his old friend Mason Hoffenberg as a collaborator, giving most of his attention to other work, especially The Magic Christian.
Andre Deutsch accepted his first novel, Flash and Filigree early in 1957, and the short story "South's Summer Idyll" was published in Paris Review #15. The Southerns spent some time in Spain with Henry Green during the summer and Southern interviewed him for Paris Review. Several more short stories were published later in the year, by which time he was finishing work on Candy. Southern and Gregory Corso also helped convince Girodias to publish the controversial novel Naked Lunch by then-little-known author William S. Burroughs.
In early 1958 Southern made his first foray into screen writing, working with Canadian director Ted Kotcheff, who had come to Britain to work for the newly established Associated TeleVision (ATV) company. Kotcheff directed Southern's TV adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, which was broadcast in the UK in March. This coincided with the publication of Flash and Filigree, which was well reviewed in the UK but coolly received in the USA.
The first major magazine interview with Southern, conducted by Elaine Dundy, was published in UK Harper's Bazaar in August 1958. In October Olympia published Candy under the pseudonym Maxwell Kenton and it was immediately banned by the Paris vice squad. Southern's first solo novel The Magic Christian satirically explores the corrupting effects of money. Southern finished the book in Geneva over the fall and winter of 1958-59 and it was published by Andre Deutsch in spring 1959 to mixed reviews, although it soon gained an avid cult following. By the time it had been published, the Southerns had decided to return to the USA; they left Geneva for New York in April 1959.
During 1959-60 he continued working on a never-completed novel called The Hipsters, which he had beguan in Geneva. He became part of the New York 'salon' of his old friend George Plimpton, who had also moved back to New York, rubbing shoulders with James Jones, William Styron, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, H.L. Humes, Jack Gelber, the Aga Khan, Blair Fuller, the cast of Beyond The Fringe, Jules Feiffer, Jackie Kennedy, British actress Jean Marsh, Gore Vidal, Kenneth Tynan, and his first wife, Elaine Dundy, through whom Southern met satirist Lenny Bruce.
Flash and Filigree had been published in the USA by Coward McCann in the fall of 1958. Several fragments from The Hipsters were published as short stories during this period, including "Red-Dirt Marijuana" (published in the January-February 1960 edition of Evergreen Review and "Razor Fight", published in Glamour magazine. He had an essay on Lotte Lenya published in Esquire and in early 1960 he began writing book reviews for the Nation, which were published over the next two years. During the year he also collaborated with his old Paris friends, Alexander Trocchi and Richard Seaver, compiling an anthology of modern fiction for the Frederick Fall company. The editing process took much longer than expected, due to a drug bust that forced Trocchi to flee to the UK via Canada, leaving Southern and Seaver to finish the book.
Terry and Carol's son and only child Nile was born on 29 December 1960. Around this time Southern began writing for Maurice Girodias' new periodical Olympia Review. He began negotiations with the Putnam company to reissue Candy under his and Hoffenberg's real names, and he hired a new literary agent, Sterling Lord.
In the summer of 1962 Southern worked for two months as a relief editor at Esquire, and during this period he had several stories published in the magazine, including "The Road to Axotle". The Esquire gig also enabled him to interview rising filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who had just completed his controversial screen adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita. Although Southern knew little about Kubrick, the director was already well aware of Southern's work, having been given a copy of The Magic Christian by Peter Sellers during the making of Lolita.
Southern's life and career changed irrevocably on November 2, 1962, when he received a telegram inviting him to come to London to work on the screenplay of Kubrick's new film, which was then in pre-production.
Southern's work on the project was brief but intense; he officially worked on the script from November 16 to December 28, 1962. Southern began to rely on the amphetamine "diet pill" Dexamyl to keep him going through the frantic rewriting process; in later years he became increasingly reliant on the drug and he developed a long-term dependency. His amphetamine abuse, combined with his heavy intake of alcohol and other drugs, contributed significantly to his health problems in later life.
The major change Southern and Kubrick made was to jettison the "film within a film" structure and recast the script as a black comedy. Kubrick, George and Southern shared the screenplay credits, but competing claims about who contributed what led to confusion and some conflict between the three after the film's release. The credit question was further confused by Sellers' numerous ab-libbed contributions – he would often improvise wildly on set, so Kubrick made sure that Sellers had as much camera 'coverage' as possible during his scenes, in order to capture these spontaneous inspirations.
It is claimed that most of the dark and satiric dialogue was written by Southern. According to Art Miller, an independent producer who hired Southern to write the screenplay for a never-completed comic film about the bumbling Watergate burglars, Southern told him that the best example of his writing in "Dr. Strangelove" was the classic scene in which B-52 pilot T.J. "King" Kong, played by Slim Pickens, reads off a list of the contents of a survival kit to his crew, concluding that a man could have "a great weekend in Vegas" with some of the items (condoms). When the scene was shot, Pickens spoke the scripted line ("Dallas"), but the word "Vegas" had to be overdubbed during post-production because the film was released not long after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. According to Miller, Peter Sellers quietly paid Southern tens of thousands of dollars to create some of the best-known comedy bits for Sellers' beloved character Inspector Clouseau in the "Pink Panther" film series.
Southern also helped Peter Sellers with dialogue coaching. Sellers had originally been slated to play four roles, including that of the crazed bomber pilot, but he had difficulty mastering the accent. Southern, a native Texan, made a tape of his own voice for Sellers, who was then able to 'nail' the accent in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, Sellers injured his ankle during the filming of the scenes inside the bomber, he was forbidden by his doctors to continue working on those scenes, and Kubrick was forced to re-cast the part. It had originally been written with Western star John Wayne in mind, and it was offered to him after Sellers was forced to drop out, but the ultra-conservative Wayne turned it down immediately. Kubrick then remembered Texan actor Slim Pickens, whom he had met during his brief stint working on Marlon Brando's One Eyed Jacks.
After the film went into wider release in January 1964 Southern was the subject of considerable media coverage, and was erroneously given primary credit for the screenplay, a misperception he apparently did little to correct. This reportedly angered both Kubrick – who was notorious for his unwillingness to share writing credits – and Peter George, who was moved to pen a complaint to Life magazine in response to a lavish photo essay on Southern published in the 8 May 1964 edition. Stung by the article's assertion that Southern was responsible for turning the formerly "serious script" into an "original irreverent satirical film", a rightly aggrieved George pointed out that he and Kubrick had been working together on the script for ten months, whereas Southern was only "briefly employed (November 16 to December 28, 1962) to do some additional writing"..
Towards the end of his work on Dr Strangelove, Southern began canvassing for more film work. Jobs he considered included a proposed John Schlesinger screen adaptation of the Iris Murdoch novel A Severed Head, and a project called The Marriage Game, to be directed by Peter Yates and produced by the James Bond team of Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli. He also wrote an essay on John Fowles' novel The Collector, which led to his work as a "script doctor" on the subsequent screen version.
Boosted by the attention he gained through Dr Strangelove, Southern's writing career took off during 1963. His landmark essay "Twirlin' At Ole Miss" was published in Esquire in Feb. 1963, and this famous work of satirical reportage is now acknowledged as one of the cornerstone works of "New Journalism". This was quickly followed by the publication of several other important essays, including the Bay of Pigs themed "Recruiting for the Big Parade", "I Am Mike Hammer" and one of his best Paris stories, "You're Too Hip, Baby". The fiction anthology Writers In Revolt was published in the spring, soon followed by the U.S. publication of Candy, which went on to become the #2 American fiction best-seller of 1963.
Most importantly, his work on Dr Strangelove opened the doors to lucrative work as a screenplay writer and "script doctor" and it also allowed him to greatly increase his fee, from the reported $2000 he received for Dr Strangelove to as much as $100,000 thereafter.
During the latter half of The Sixties Southern worked on the screenplays of a string of 'cult' films that cemented his reputation as one of the best comedic screenplay writers of his day. His credits in this period include The Loved One (film) (1965) The Collector (1965) The Cincinnati Kid (1966) Casino Royale (1967), Barbarella (1967), Easy Rider (1968), The Magic Christian (1969) and The End of the Road (1970) .
In August 1964, the Southerns moved to Los Angeles, where Terry began work on the screenplay of The Loved One, for which MGM/Filmways paid him $3000 per month. Southern's work and his tireless networking and socializing brought him into contact with many Hollywood stars including Ben Gazzara, Jennifer Jones, Janice Rule, George Segal, Richard Benjamin, James Coburn, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and his wife Brooke Hayward. Hopper, a passionate fan and collector of modern art, would later introduce Southern to influential British gallery owner and art dealer Robert Fraser.
Not long after arriving in L.A., Southern met a beautiful young Canadian-born actress and dancer, Gail Gerber on the MGM backlot. Gerber was working as a dancer on an Elvis Presley movie being made at the time, and she also had a non-speaking role in The Loved One. Southern and Gerber soon began an affair, which Gerber tried to end after a few dates, but she was pushed into continuing it by Jennifer Jones. The relationship intensified during July-August '64, and after Southern's wife and son went back to East Canaan, Southern and Gerber moved in together in a suite at the famous Chateau Marmont hotel.
Working with Richardson and Isherwood, Southern turned Waugh's novel into "an all-out attack on Hollywood, consumerism and the hypocrisies surrounding man's fear of death". Southern also wrote the text for a souvenir book, which featured photos by William Claxton.
Work on the film continued through most of 1965, with Southern and Gerber spending much of their "down time" hanging out with their newfound film star friends in Malibu. Loved One co-producer John Calley was a frequent visitor to Southern's Chateau Marmont suite and he hired Southern to work on several subsequent Filmways projects including The Cincinnati Kid and Don't Make Waves.
Soon after principal shooting on The Loved One was concluded, Southern began work on the script of The Cincinnati Kid, which starred Steve McQueen, although he was one of several noted writers who had worked on versions of the screenplay, including Paddy Chayevsky, George Good and Ring Lardner Jr. Original director Sam Peckinpah was fired only one week into shooting, allegedly because he shot unauthorized nude scenes, and he would not make another film until 1969's The Wild Bunch. He was replaced by Norman Jewison. During production Southern formed a close and enduring friendship with cast member Rip Torn.
Southern and Gail Gerber moved to London in early 1966, when Southern was hired to work on the screenplay of Casino Royale. The episodic "quasi-psychedelic burlesque" proved to be a chaotic production, stitched together from segments variously directed or co-directed by a team that included Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, John Huston, Richard Talmadge and Ken Hughes. Many planned scenes could not be filmed due to the feud between Orson Welles and Peter Sellers, which climaxed with Sellers walking out during the filming of the casino scenes and refusing to return. Many writers contributed to the screenplay; they included Southern (who wrote most of the dialogue for star Peter Sellers), Woody Allen, Wolf Mankowitz, Michael Sayers, Frank Buxton, Joseph Heller, Ben Hecht, Mickey Rose and Billy Wilder.
Southern had been introduced to Robert Fraser by Dennis Hopper, and when he went to London to work on Casino Royale he and Gail became part of Fraser's "jet-set" salon that included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, photographer Michael Cooper, interior designer Christopher Gibbs, model-actress Anita Pallenberg, filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, painter Francis Bacon, producer Sandy Lieberson, Guinness heir Tara Browne (whose subsequent death in a car accident was woven into John Lennon's "A Day in the Life") and model Donya Luna. Southern became very close friends with photographer Michael Cooper, who was part of The Rolling Stones' inner circle and who shot the cover photos for The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP.
Southern attended the Cannes Film Festival in the spring of 1966, where he met Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga, and he remained in touch with Malanga for many years. On his return to London he continued work on the Casino Royale screenplay and a screen adaptation of The Magic Christian for Peter Sellers, who planned to make a film of it. Sandy Lieberson optioned Southern's first novel Flash and Filigree and United Artists optioned Candy. Michael Cooper also introduced Southern to Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange, and Southern later encouraged Stanley Kubrick to make his film version of the book after MGM refused to back Kubrick's planned film on Napoleon. Southern and Cooper then began to talk up their own film adaptation of the novel, to star Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones as Alex and his gang of droogs.
Through Si Litvinoff, Southern optioned the book for the bargain price of US$1000 (against a final price of $10,000) and Lieberson and David Puttnam set up a development deal with Paramount, who underwrote a draft by Southern and Cooper. Actor David Hemmings was briefly considered for the role of Alex – much to the chagrin of Cooper and the Stones – and the director's chair was initially offered to Richard Lester, who turned it down. Southern's old friend Ted Kotcheff was then approached, but at the project stalled after treatment was sent to the British Lord Chamberlain, who returned it, unread, with a note attached that said: "I know this book and there is no way you can make a movie of it. It deals with youthful incitement, which is illegal." As a result, Paramount put it into "turnaround" and it was eventually picked up by Kubrick three years later.
During the frequent downtime periods in the filming of Casino Royale, Filmways hired Southern to do a "tightening and brightening" job on the screenplay of the occult thriller Eye of the Devil, which starred David Niven and featured Sharon Tate in her first film role. Through the winter of 1966-67 he also began work on the screenplay for Roger Vadim's Barbarella and he also contributed to a TV version of The Desperate Hours directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring George Segal and Yvette Mimieux.
The June 1, 1967 release of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band gave Southern pop-culture immortality, thanks to his photograph being included (on the recommendation of Ringo Starr) on the album's famous front-cover collage, which was photographed by his friend Michael Cooper. Soon after, a collection of his short writing Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes, was published in the USA. It received strongly favourable reviews from critics and the cover 'blurb' featured a highly complimentary quote from Gore Vidal, who described Southern as "the most profoundly witty writer of our generation".
Work on Barbarella continued through late 1967, and Southern convinced Vadim to cast his friend Anita Pallenberg in the role of the Black Queen. In December 1967 the film version of Candy began shooting in Rome with director Christian Marquand. It starred newcomer Ewa Aulin in the title role and like Casino Royale it featured a host of stars in cameo roles, including Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, John Astin, Ringo Starr and Walter Matthau, and Anita Pallenberg also appears.
The original screenplay by Southern was rewritten by Buck Henry (who also has an uncredited cameo in the film). Like Casino Royale it proved to be a chaotic production and failed to live up to expectations; it was generally panned by critics on its release in December 1968 and its impact was further weakened by the financial collapse of its major backer.
Southern would eventually share the writing credit with Hopper and Fonda, but there has been considerable dispute over their various contributions to the screenplay. Hopper and Fonda later tried to downplay Southern's considerable input, claiming that many sections of the film (such as the graveyard scene) had been improvised, whereas others involved in the production (including Southern himself) have asserted that most of these scenes were fully scripted and primarily written by Southern.
Although the basic idea for the film was Fonda's, the title "Easy Rider" was provided by Southern (it is an American slang term for a man who lives off the earnings of a prostitute) and it later emerged that Southern wrote several drafts of the screenplay. During production, Southern became concerned at Hopper and Fonda's replacement of his writing by what he described as "dumb-bell dialogue", and more of the material Southern wrote for the main characters was cut out during the editing process.
The character of the small-town lawyer played by Jack Nicholson was written for Southern's friend Rip Torn, but Torn dropped out of the project after an altercation with Hopper in a New York restaurant, in which the two actors almost came to blows.
Southern continued to work on other projects when Easy Rider began shooting—he completed his next novel Blue Movie, began working with Larry Rivers on a book project called The Donkey and The Darling, he worked on the final drafts of the screenplay for The Magic Christian and he began discussions with Aram Avakian about a movie project called The End of the Road.
In summer 1968 he was approached by Esquire magazine to cover the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Southern attended the controversial event with William S. Burroughs, Jean Genet (a last-minute substitute for Samuel Beckett) and John Sack, and his friend Michael Cooper took photographs; Southern and friends were in the thick of the action when peaceful demontrations erupted into savage violence after protestors were attacked by police. Southern's essay on the event, "Groovin' In Chi", was his last work published in Esquire.
The editing of Easy Rider continued for many months, as Hopper and Fonda argued over the final form. Hopper ditched a planned score by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and returned to the now famous group of songs he had used for the rough cut, which included music by The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Steppenwolf. The film caused a sensation when it was screened in Cannes and it went on to become the fourth highest-grossing American film of 1969, taking US$19 million, and receiving two Academy Award nominations. Although Easy Rider brought Hopper and Fonda great financial and artistic rewards and helped to open up the Hollywood 'system' for young, independent producers, Southern gained little of the financial windfall and saw his contributions repeatedly downplayed by the other principals.
Southern's next major screenplay was for another independent film, The End of the Road, adapted from the novel by John Barth, starring Stacy Keach and James Earl Jones. It was directed by his friend Aram Avakian (a director and editor whose previous credits included Jazz on a Summer's Day, Mickey One, The Miracle Worker and many more). The director and the film were the subject of a major spread in Life in November 1969, which reportedly led to a critical backlash, and the film was savaged on its release, and was especially criticised because of a graphic scene in which the main female character undergoes an abortion.
The Magic Christian was one of Peter Sellers favourite books—his gift of a copy to Stanley Kubrick had led to Southern being hired for Dr Strangelove—and a film version had long been a pet project for the actor, who intended to play the lead role of Guy Grand. In 1968 Southern was hired for the project and he worked on a dozen drafts of the screenplay for the The Magic Christian, but Peter Sellers also tinkered with it while Southern was working on The End of the Road. At Sellers' request, a draft by Southern and director Joseph McGrath was re-written by Graham Chapman and John Cleese, two young British TV comedy writers who would soon become famous as members of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Cleese later described McGrath as having "no idea of comedy structure" and complained that the film ended up as "a series of celebrity walk-ons"
The film was shot in London between February and May 1969. The cast was headed by Sellers (as Guy Grand) and Ringo Starr as his son Youngman Grand (a new character created for the movie) with cameo appearances by major stars including Spike Milligan, Christopher Lee, Laurence Harvey, Raquel Welch, Roman Polanski and Yul Brynner. As with Dr Strangelove, Sellers habitually improvised on the script during filming. During production McGrath and Southern discussed a future project based on the life of gangster Dutch Schultz, to be made in collaboration with William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi, but nothing came of it.
The Magic Christian ends with the famous scene in which Grand fills a huge vat with offal and excrement and then throws money into the fetid mixture to demonstrate how far people will go to get money for nothing. It was planned to film this climactic scene at the Statue of Liberty in New York and, remarkably, the U.S. National Park Service consented to the site being used. Sellers, McGrath and Southern then travelled to New York on the Queen Elizabeth II (at a reported cost of US$10,000 per person) but the studio then refused to pay for the shoot and it had to be relocated to London. The scene was eventually shot on the South Bank, near the new National Theatre. The film premiered on 12 February 1970 to lukewarm reviews.
His later career was persistently complicated by his ongoing financial woes. In the late 1960s Southern's free-spending ways and poor financial advice led him into trouble and he was audited by the IRS on several occasions, resulting in heavy tax bills and penalties. Tax problems dogged him for the rest of his life, and it has been suggested that he might have been targeted because of his 'radical' views and his anti-war stance. It later emerged that Southern and his wife Carol had been under surveillance by the FBI since 1965.
Blue Movie was published in the fall of 1970, with a dedication to Stanley Kubrick. It received only moderate reviews, and sales were hampered by the refusal of the New York Times to run ads for the book.
Southern worked on a variety of screenplays after Easy Rider including God Is Love, DJ (based on a book by Norman Mailer), Hand-Painted Hearts (based on a story by Thomas Baum) and Drift with Tony Goodstone. Although Fonda and Hopper continued to play up the notion that much of Easy Rider had been improvised, Southern remained largely silent about his role, although he was prompted to write a letter to the New York Times to counter a claim that Jack Nicholson had improvised his speech during the famous 'graveyard' scene.
Terry and Carol Southern were divorced in early 1972 but they remained on good terms and Southern continued to support and help raise their son Nile. The attentions of the IRS had also affected Carol, who had an inheritance from her late father seized as part of Terry's tax settlement. She later became an editor with Crown Publishing, and re-married to critic Alexander Keneas.
Among Southern's unrealised projects in this period were an adaptation of Nathanael West's A Cool Million, and a screenplay called Merlin, based on Arthurian legend, which was written with Mick Jagger slated to play the lead role.
Southern covered the infamous Rolling Stones 1972 American Tour, where he met and began a collaboration with Peter Beard, and they would work on the never-filmed screenplay The End of the Game sporadically until Southern's death. Southern immersed himself in the bacchanalian atmosphere of the tour, and his essay on the Stones tour, "Riding The Lapping Tongue", was published in the 12 August 1972 edition of Saturday Review. He also wrote a bawdy anti-Nixon skit which was performed at a George McGovern fundraiser, and "Twirlin' at Ole Miss" was published in The New Journalism.
By late 1972 Southern's money woes had become acute, so he took on a position as a lecturer in screenwriting at New York University, where he taught from the fall of 1972 to the spring of 1974. His students included Amy Heckerling, Steven Aronson and Lee Server. To make ends meet, Southern also began writing for National Lampoon in November 1972. He also served on the jury at the 1972 New York Erotic Film Festival with William S. Burroughs, Gore Vidal and Sylvia Miles.
In 1973 he wrote a new screenplay called Double Date, which in some respects anticipated the later David Cronenberg film Dead Ringers, but he eventually abandoned it. In early 1974 John Calley (now at Warner Brothers) hired Southern to write a screenplay of Blue Movie, with Mike Nichols slated to direct, but the deal eventually fell apart due to a protracted dispute between Warners and Ringo Starr, who then owned the screen rights.
A new short story, "Fixing Up Ert" was published in the Sep. 1974 edition of Oui magazine, and around this time Norwegian director Ingmar Ejve hired Southern to write a screenplay based on the Carl-Henning Wijkmark novel The Hunters of Karin Hall. His old friend Ted Kotcheff then hired Southern to write the screenplay for the Watergate-themed project A Piece of Bloody Cake, but he was unable to get the script approved.
Southern's only on-screen credit for the 1970s was the teleplay "Stop Thief!", written for the TV miniseries The American Parade. In the summer of 1976 Southern visited Rip Torn in New Mexico during the making of Nic Roeg's film version of The Man Who Fell to Earth and Roeg gave Southern a cameo in the crowd scene where Newton is arrested just as he is about to board his spacecraft. Roeg also used an excerpt from The End of the Road playing on one of the TV screens, in the scene in which Newton watches multiple TV sets at the same time. Southern's career hit an all-time low when he wrote the pornographic film, Randy: The Electric Lady which was made by young director Philip D. Schuman, who had earlier made a brilliant short film of Southern's Red Dirt which took a Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1973.
During 1977-78 Southern was embroiled in a lengthy and chaotic attempt to make a film version of William S. Burroughs' celebrated drug novel Junky, but the project eventually collapsed due to the erratic behaviour of Jules Stein, who had offered to underwrite the project. In August 1978 Southern wrote a skit called "Haven Can Wait", which was performed at an all-star benefit for Abbie Hoffman, with a cast including Jon Voight, Allen Ginsberg, Bobby Seale and Rip Torn.
Another unsuccessful project from this period was his work for Si Litvinoff on the screenplay for the opera drama Aria. Southern's script was considered 'below par' and was rejected by Fox. More positively, a new story was published in the 20th-anniversary issue of the Paris Review and Blue Movie was optioned by Andrew Braunsberg.
Another lost opportunity from this time originated with his old friend Peter Sellers. Sellers had made few significant films in the '70s, but he scored a huge hit in 1979 with the film version of Being There, another of his pet projects. Around this time, Sellers had a chance meeting with an arms dealer during an air flight, and this inspired him to contact Southern and ask him to write a script on the subject of the shady world of the international arms trade. The resulting screenplay, Grossing Out was reputed to have been of high quality, and Hal Ashby was provisionally attached as director, but the project went into limbo after Sellers' sudden death from a heart attack on July 24, 1980.
Southern's involvement with SNL led to a collaboration with former SNL writer Nelson Lyon (who became a figure of controversy because of his involvement in the events that led to the death of comedian John Belushi). Southern and Lyon worked on developing a project set in and around The Cotton Club in the 1930s, but it was eventually abandoned after Francis Ford Coppola's similarly-themed film went into production.
During 1982-83 Southern worked with Kubrick's former production partner James B. Harris on a naval drama called The Gold Crew (later retitled Floaters), but Southern was diverted from this when he began working with Larry Rivers on an independent film project called At Z Beach.
In April 1983 he was approached to work on a planned sequel to Easy Rider called Biker Heaven. He had little to do with the script, but he was paid about $20,000, which was several times more than he had earned from the original. Around this time Stanley Kubrick requested some sample dialogue for a planned film adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's book Traumnovelle which was to star Steve Martin (Kubrick eventually made the film as Eyes Wide Shut) but Southern's bawdy submissions reportedly sabotaged any prospect of further involvement.
A new story was published in High Times in May 1983, and Hopper invited Southern to work on a planned biopic of Jim Morrison, which was to be backed by notorious publisher Larry Flynt, but it soon emerged that Flynt did not own the screen rights to Morrison's story and the project collapsed ignominiously after Flynt's mansion was raided by the FBI.
Southern turned 60 in 1984 and his career continued to see-saw between promise and disappointment. Flash and Filigree was reissued by Arbor House with a new introduction by William Burroughs, and Sandy Lieberson (now at Fox) hired him to work on a script called Intensive Heat, based on the life of jewel thief Albie Baker, but Southern ran into problems with his long-overdue new book called Youngblood (later retitled Southern Idyll) – publishers Putnam eventually demanded the return of the $20,000 advance, and the novel was never finished. In 1985 Southern featured prominently in the Howard Brookner documentary on his old friend William S. Burroughs, and both Candy and The Magic Christian were reprinted by Penguin.
The only major Hawkeye project to see the light of day was The Telephone. Essentially a one-handed comedy-drama, it depicted the gradual mental disintegration of an out-of-work actor. It was written with Robin Williams in mind but Williams turned it down. Hawkeye then learned that comedian Whoopi Goldberg was keen to take the part and she asked Nilsson and Southern to rewrite it for her. New World Films agreed to produce it and Southern's old friend Rip Torn signed on as director.
Production began in January 1987, but New World allowed Goldberg to 'improvise' freely on the screenplay, and she also replaced Torn's chosen DOP John Alonzo with her then husband. Torn battled with Goldberg and reportedly had to beg her to perform takes that stuck to the script. A year-long struggle then ensued between Hawkeye and New World/Goldberg over the rights to the final cut. Southern and Torn put together their own version, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1988; New World's version premiered in cinemas later that month to generally poor reviews.
The steady salary from Hawkeye was a considerable help to the perennially cash-strapped Southern, but the checks stopped abruptly in late 1989 when Hawkeye folded. Nilsson discovered to his horror that his secretary-treasurer Cindy Sims had embezzled all the company funds (and most of the money Nilsson had earned from his music), leaving him virtually penniless. At this point Southern still owed the IRS some $30,000 in back taxes and $40,000 in penalties.
Apart from The Telephone, Southern's only published new output in the period 1985-90 was the liner notes for the Marianne Faithfull album Strange Weather and a commentary on the Iran-Contra scandal published in Nation.
Southern landed a job teaching at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in the summer of 1989. He also assisted with the preparation and publication of Blinds and Shutters, a lavish book on the photography of his late friend Michael Cooper, edited by Perry Richardson and published in a limited edition of 2000, with copies signed by luminaries such as Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Sandy Lieberson and Allen Ginsberg.
During this time Southern met briefly with Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg to discuss a planned adaptation of Burroughs' Naked Lunch (which Cronenberg subsequently made) but the meeting was unsuccessful and Southern had no further involvement in the project. In November 1989 he talked with Victor Bokris and the results were published in Interview. His profile was given another small boost by the re-publication of the Red-Dirt Marijuana collection in 1990.
With encouragement from his son Nile, Southern began work on a long-shelved novel, provisionally titled Behind The Grassy Knoll. Retitled Texas Summer, Southern's final novel was published in 1992 by Richard Seaver. Southern's last two major articles were published during 1991; a piece on the Texas band ZZ Top appeared in the February edition of Spin, and an article on the Gulf War appeared in the Nation on 8 July. During the year Southern was also invited to teach screenwriting at Columbia University and he continued to work there until his death.
In 1992 he collaborated with Joseph McGrath on a screenplay called Starlets (later retitled Festival), which spoofed the Cannes Film Festival. During the year Peter Fonda reportedly tried to prevail on Southern to give up any claim on Easy Rider in exchange for a payment of $30,000, but Southern refused. Southern also assisted Perry Richardson with another book based around Michael Cooper's photography, The Early Stones which was published late in the year.
Southern's health deteriorated over the last two years of his life, and he suffered a mild stroke in November 1992. In February 1993 he made his last visit home to Texas, where he attended a commemorative screening of Dr Strangelove and The Magic Christian at the Dallas Museum of Art. During 1994 he made a series of recordings of readings from his works for a projected tribute project coordinated by producer Hal Willner and Nelson Lyon, but the recording process was complicated by Southern's fragile health and the project remained unreleased until recently.
Southern's friend Harry Nilsson died of a heart attack in January 1994, and Little, Brown publishers subsequently commissioned Southern to write a memoir, but only two chapters were ever completed.
In September 1995 Southern received the Gotham Award for lifetime achievement by the Independent Film Producers Association at the age of 71. The Easy Rider controversy reared its head again shortly before Southern's death, when Dennis Hopper alleged during an interview with Jay Leno that Rip Torn had been replaced because he had pulled a knife on Hopper during their argument in New York in 1968. Torn sued Hopper over the remark, and Southern agreed to testify on Torn's behalf, although this led to a permanent rift with Jean Stein, who was a mutual friend of Hopper and Southern. However the case did bring to light several of Southern's drafts of the Easy Rider screenplay, which effectively ended the dispute over his contributions.
In 1995, shortly before his death, Southern hired a new agent and began making arrangements for the republication of both Candy and The Magic Christian by Grove. His final project was the text for a proposed history of Virgin Records. He appeared at the Yale Summer Writing Program mid-year, and in October he made his last media appearance when he was interviewed for a documentary on Alexander Trocchhi.
On 25 October 1995 Southern collapsed on the steps of Dodge College at Columbia on his way to class. He was taken to St Luke's Hospital, where he died four days later, on 29 October.
In early 2003 Southern's archives of manuscripts, correspondence and photographs were acquired by the New York Public Library. The archives include correspondence and other items from George Plimpton, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Frank O'Hara, Larry Rivers, William Styron, V. S. Pritchett, Gore Vidal, Abbie Hoffman, and Edmund Wilson, as well as John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and the Rolling Stones. Fittingly, the announcement of this acquisition was made on April 1.