Judith Rossner, 1935-2005: "Mr. Goodbar" author "beyond the ordinary"

NEW YORK — Judith Rossner, the straight-talking, straight-writing New Yorker who in "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" and other novels relentlessly analyzed educated women amid the fear and freedom of social and sexual revolutions, has died at age 70.

Ms. Rossner died Tuesday night at NYU Medical Center, her family said yesterday. She had been ill with diabetes and leukemia, but the cause of death was not immediately determined, said her brother-in-law, Rayner Pike, a retired Associated Press writer.

"Mr. Goodbar," which came out in 1975, was likely her best-known work, thanks to the 1977 movie that starred Diane Keaton as the Roman Catholic schoolteacher in New York City who frequents singles bars, with fatal results.

"The sureness of Judith Rossner's writing and her almost flawless sense of timing create a complex and chilling portrait of a woman's descent into hell that gives this book considerable literary merit," The New York Times wrote.

Ms. Rossner's many novels also include "To the Precipice," in which a woman leaves her husband after she becomes pregnant from an extramarital affair, and "His Little Women," a modern, feminist retelling of "Little Women."

In a 1983 interview with The Washington Post, Ms. Rossner said, "It's astonishing what some women will put up with just to have a warm body — some of the brightest women I know are just obsessed with that search. It's very sad."

It was a subject she explored repeatedly.

Influenced by such explicit works as Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying" and Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," Ms. Rossner narrated in fullest detail life's most extreme and private moments, from the murder in "Mr. Goodbar" to an orgy in "Attachments" that featured Siamese twins.

Longtime friend, journalist and author Betty Rollin said yesterday that Ms. Rossner's personal honesty was inseparable from her writing.

"You knew what was on her mind and in her heart. She let you know," Rollin said. "In the world we live in, where everyone was careful, Judy wasn't careful at all. ... In this great way, she didn't give a hoot. She wasn't for show at all."

Another close friend, film critic Andrew Sarris, called Ms. Rossner "an exemplar of that New York sensibility" — cosmopolitan and "skeptical of everything.

"She was always trying to push the envelope a little bit, to come up with something beyond the ordinary," Sarris said. "Her writing ... is very much a reflection of who she is and what she is. She was like her writing."

Born Judith Perelman in 1935, Ms. Rossner was a native New Yorker who dropped out of college to marry Robert Rossner, a writer and teacher whom she divorced in 1972.

As a single mother with two children, and three previous novels that sold little, Ms. Rossner consciously sought a more commercial story and began working on "Mr. Goodbar," based on the true story of a teacher murdered in a singles bar.

Ms. Rossner's survivors include her husband, Stanley Leff; her children, Daniel and Jean Rossner; and three grandchildren.

Associated Press writers Ula Ilnytzky and David B. Caruso contributed

to this report.