Jean Stein, the literary editor and author known for producing engrossing oral histories on topics as disparate as the tumultuous life of an Andy Warhol acolyte and the dastardly intrigues of early Hollywood, has died at 83.
Her death Sunday was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Nation magazine in New York City, where Stein’s daughter, Katrina vanden Heuvel, serves as editor and publisher.
The spokesperson did not reveal the cause of death, but a New York City Police Department official said that Stein had jumped to her death Sunday morning from the 15th floor of a Manhattan tower.
A spokesperson at Random House, which published her most recent book, the well-received “West of Eden: An American Place,” issued the shortest of statements in response: “Random House is deeply saddened by the death of Jean Stein.”
Friends who knew her said she had been unhappy in recent years.
“We were very close friends,” said Robert Scheer, a Los Angeles journalist and editor of the political website Truthdig, who had known Stein since the ’60s. “I saw her last month or so. Every time I went to New York, I saw her. And she would come here.”
“She was pretty depressed,” he said. “We were all worried.”
But even in shock, he recalled a small, soft-spoken woman who harbored an incredibly sharp mind.
“She had the respect of the heavy hitters,” he said, “people who weren’t interested in the small talk — people like Joan Didion, Jules Feiffer. It was a circle of people who were very tough and demanding.”
Her 2016 book “West of Eden,” her most recent oral history, tracked the development of Hollywood and Southern California through the lives of five powerful Los Angeles families, such as the Warners and the Dohenys — individuals for whom roadways and movie studios have been named.