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David Seidler, Oscar-Winning Writer of ‘The King’s Speech,’ Dies at 86

David Seidler, the Academy Award-winning writer of the 2010 film “The King’s Speech,” died on Saturday. No cause of death was given. He was 86 years old.

Seidler’s film took home both Best Original Screenplay and several other Academy Awards at the 2011 ceremony, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. The movie told the story of King George VI (Colin Firth), who battled a stutter, and his relationship with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Telling the story of George VI was a longtime dream of Seidler’s because he also grew up with a stutter. As relayed by the Stuttering Foundation, Seidler contended with the condition from his third birthday until the age of 16. He explained, “I had huge trouble with the ‘H’ sound, so when the telephone rang, I would break into a cold sweat, because I couldn’t say ‘hello.'”

“I don’t know if school still works this way, but in those days you had set places, and the teacher worked up and down the rows. If I could see her working toward me and she was just going to miss me that day, I would fake sick the next day so I didn’t have to go to school, because it was so terrifying to be called upon.”

Seidler, whose uncle also had a childhood stutter, attributed his condition to the stress of growing up Jewish in World War II-era Europe. His family moved to the United States in 1940 to escape the atrocities plaguing the continent.

In the same interview, he said his stutter contributed to his decision to become a writer. Seidler explained, “If you’re born with two conflicting traits — in my case, I was a born ham, but I was a stutterer — and if you want to be the center of attention but you can’t talk, you find another channel, and that’s writing.”

In a separate interview with Film Critic, Seidler said that King George VI became a beacon of hope for him. “By the time I arrived in New York City, I was stuttering, and it stayed with me right through my childhood and much of my adolescence. But the one ray of hope that I was given was the speeches of King George VI. In the latter stages of the war, when I was old enough to listen to the radio, my parents would encourage me to listen to the king’s speeches.”

“They would say to me, ‘David, he was a much worse stutterer than you, and listen to him now. He’s not perfect. But he can give these magnificent, stirring addresses that rallied the free world.’ And he could do that as a king, with everyone listening intently to every syllable this man uttered. That’s tough.”

After working as a writer, Seidler moved to Hollywood at the age of 40. He subsequently cowrote Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” and the 1985 Elizabeth Taylor TV movie “Malice in Wonderland.”

Telling King George VI’s story had been in the back of Seidler’s mind since the 1980s. He wrote to the king’s widow, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, to ask permission. She requested that he wait until after her death. Seidler returned to the project after he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2005; the king himself died from lung cancer. The Queen Mother had died in 2002.

“The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper connected with Seidler after his mother attended a reading of the stage version of the story. Hooper told the Stuttering Foundation, “It’s clearly the best script of his life. He’s really writing about his own childhood experiences through the guise of these two characters.”

Seidler took home the Oscar for Writing (Original Screenplay) in 2011. His speech following his win for “The King’s Speech” was both moving and funny. He began, “The writer’s speech, this is terrifying. My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer. I believe I am the oldest person to win this particular award. I hope that record is broken quickly and often.”

“I would like to thank Her Majesty the Queen for not putting me in the Tower of London for using the Melissa Leo F-word,” Seidler added. “And I accept this on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world. We have a voice, we have been heard thanks to you, the Academy.”

Seidler was born in London in July 1937. He is survived by his two children, Maya and Marc.

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