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An exhaustive playwright-turned-screenwriter who lived in both figurative and literal darkness, Aaron Sorkin created some of the most intelligent, optimistic and entertaining television in recent memory. Through verbal flourishes and idealistic characters who seemed to only fail from undying loyalty, Sorkin presented a fictional world that seemed at odds with his own harsh reality. But his unflinching onscreen idealism was made honest by the sheer density and scope of his writing, particularly on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006), Sorkin's oft-awarded and highly-rated series about the inner workings of a White House populated by bright-eyed staffers and a charismatic president. Prior to that hugely successful show, Sorkin wrote a number of popular and critically acclaimed movies like "A Few Good Men" (1988), "Malice" (1993) and "The American President" (1995). He also created the popular half-hour series, "Sports Night" (ABC, 1998-2000) and the short-lived drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07). Following an adaptation of "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007), Sorkin reached the apex of his screenwriting career by winning an Oscar for his work on "The Social Network" (2010) and continued...
An exhaustive playwright-turned-screenwriter who lived in both figurative and literal darkness, Aaron Sorkin created some of the most intelligent, optimistic and entertaining television in recent memory. Through verbal flourishes and idealistic characters who seemed to only fail from undying loyalty, Sorkin presented a fictional world that seemed at odds with his own harsh reality. But his unflinching onscreen idealism was made honest by the sheer density and scope of his writing, particularly on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006), Sorkin's oft-awarded and highly-rated series about the inner workings of a White House populated by bright-eyed staffers and a charismatic president. Prior to that hugely successful show, Sorkin wrote a number of popular and critically acclaimed movies like "A Few Good Men" (1988), "Malice" (1993) and "The American President" (1995). He also created the popular half-hour series, "Sports Night" (ABC, 1998-2000) and the short-lived drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07). Following an adaptation of "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007), Sorkin reached the apex of his screenwriting career by winning an Oscar for his work on "The Social Network" (2010) and continued receiving critical acclaim for "Moneyball" (2011). Though he had endured his share of personal problems, including a battle with crack cocaine, Sorkin maintained a high creative output and established himself as a bona fide moneymaker for the powers-that-be.
Born June 9, 1961 in Manhattan, Sorkin was reared in Scarsdale, NY by a school teacher mom and lawyer dad. He went to Scarsdale High School, where he got interested in acting and became vice president of the drama club. Because it offered a degree in musical theater, Sorkin attended Syracuse University, where he played Young Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" and was the top pyramid acrobat for a performance of "Carnival." After graduation, he struggled to find work as an actor in New York, sporadically doing children's theater while tending bar and sleeping on friends' floors. But fortune smiled when a friend asked him to housesit for a few days: Sorkin found a typewriter among the domestic accoutrements and began pounding out a few pages of bad dialogue. He eventually churned out his first play - "Removing All Doubt" - which he sent to Arthur Storch, his old theater teacher at Syracuse, who was impressed enough to have it staged for drama students at the school in 1984.
Sorkin made his New York City stage debut in 1988 with his one-act play, "Hidden in This Picture," which was seen by producer John McQuiggan, who commissioned him to make it a full-length play called "Making Movies." Then in 1989, Sorkin launched his career by penning "A Few Good Men" - a tense courtroom drama about a Navy lawyer probing a Marine's death after a hazing ritual known as a Code Red was ordered to punish the soldier for threatening to reveal an illegal shooting. Based loosely on a real military court martial Sorkin learned about from his older sister, "A Few Good Men" got a tryout at the University of Virginia before opening off-Broadway at the Music Box Theater in New York. Prior to its opening, Sorkin's agent sent the play to producer David Brown ("Jaw" and "The Verdict") who got the film made through director Rob Reiner's Castle Rock Entertainment. The film version, released in 1992, starred Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore, and grossed over $140 million dollars. Almost overnight, Sorkin went from a struggling unknown to a successful and highly-paid Hollywood writer.
Sorkin next penned the script for "Malice" (1993), a psychological thriller starring Bill Pullman as a university dean dealing with a serial rapist on campus and whose wife (Nicole Kidman) takes an immediate disliking to their new house guest (Alec Baldwin), an arrogant, but brilliant surgeon. Sorkin then teamed up again with director Rob Reiner for "The American President" (1995) - a lighthearted romantic comedy about the leader of the free world (Michael Douglas) trying to balance the demands of his job with his wooing of an environmental lobbyist (Annette Benning). After "A Few Good Men," Sorkin spent two years holed up in the Four Seasons Hotel with the curtains drawn, writing the script for "The American President" while smoking endless amounts of crack. After the movie was finished, his addiction raised concerns among friends, who convinced him to check into the Hazelden Institute in Minnesota to clean up. Meanwhile, Sorkin was nominated for several awards for "The American President," including a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay - Motion Picture and the Writers Guild of America award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
His next feature, "Enemy of the State" (1998), was a political thriller about a successful attorney (Will Smith) who unwittingly becomes the target of rogue elements inside the National Security Agency, after he learns about the murder of a U.S. Senator. Sorkin deviated from the heart-warming confines of "The American President" to tell a gritty and thrilling yarn that echoed the government-induced paranoia of the 1970s while displaying the secretive and intrusive technology of the late-1990s. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Tony Scott and costarring Gene Hackman in a semi-reprisal of his role from "The Conversation" (1974), "Enemy of the State" faired well at the box office, earning over $110 million in domestic receipts.
Sorkin then made his first foray into series television with, "Sports Night" (ABC, 1998-2000), an excellent, but short lived half-hour comedy that focused on the behind-the-scenes doings of researchers, producers and on-air talent frantically struggling to turn sport highlights into a nightly feast of entertaining programming peppered with witty banter. Critically acclaimed and loved by a small, but devoted audience, "Sports Night" never managed to capture mainstream viewers and was canceled after two seasons. Adding insult to injury, Sorkin had battled mightily with the network during the first season to remove the unnecessary and intrusive laugh track. His efforts paid off for season two, but by then it was too late.
Despite critical kudos, Sorkin failed to grab any awards for "Sports Night." But that changed with his next series, "The West Wing," which earned the creator several Emmys and Golden Globes over the course of his four years on the show (executive producer John Wells took over for Sorkin when he left in 2002.) When the show first aired in 1999, Sorkin was writing both "Sports Night" and "West Wing," a problem amplified by his obsessive need to write every single episode, much to the frustration of his staff writers. Once "Sports Night" went off the air, Sorkin was able to focus his nervous energies on "The West Wing," turning the series into a ratings winner for the network. But his controlling need to write all the episodes proved difficult in the long run - he was routinely late in having scripts ready for shooting, though he and producing partner Tommy Schlamme eventually left on their own accord. Making matters worse, Sorkin refused to allow Rick Cleveland, co-writer on the Emmy-winning episode "In Excelsis Deo," the chance to speak at the awards ceremony. Sorkin later apologized, but the damage was done.
Sorkin further complicated his life prior to departing "The West Wing" when he was arrested at the Burbank Airport for drug possession while boarding a plane for Las Vegas. On his person was marijuana, psychedelic mushrooms, crack cocaine and a $4 metal pipe that set off the gate's metal detector. Though he claimed to have been doing better with the drug habits, Sorkin nonetheless faced public humiliation over the event. His wife, former film executive Julia Bingham and a prime influence on his decision to go Hazelden in 1995, filed for divorce soon after. While Sorkin remained out of the spotlight for much of 2004-05, "The West Wing" continued to rack up Emmy Awards with John Wells at the helm, though the ratings did begin to lag. The show enjoyed its seventh and final season in 2006, ending with the predictable changing of administrations from the dynamic Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) to unknown congressman Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits).
Sorkin returned to regular series work with a new creation, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07), a behind-the-scenes look at a sketch comedy show resembling "Saturday Night Live" that has been suffering from years of comedic stagnation. After the variety show's producer (Judd Hirsch) goes on a Howard Beale-like tirade, the network's incoming president (Amanda Peet) tries to revamp the show by rehiring two fired writers (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) as executive producers. Reviews for "Studio 60" were favorable - even gushing - prior to the series opener, as NBC launched its biggest marketing campaign of the fall season with expectations that Sorkin's new show would be another cash cow. The pilot episode took second place behind "CSI: Miami" (CBS, 2002- ), pulling in 13 million overall viewers. Meanwhile, Sorkin signed on to write his first feature in almost a decade, penning "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007), an adaptation of George Crile's nonfiction book about an alcoholic, womanizing Congressman from Texas (Tom Hanks) who persuades the CIA to arm and train Afghan freedom fighters in the 1980s, only to create a new breed of terrorists that include Osama bin Laden. For his efforts, Sorkin received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Sorkin next wrote the script for director David Fincher's highly acclaimed drama, "The Social Network" (2010), which focused on the legal battle between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and the Harvard roommates who accused him of stealing their idea. Based on the nonfiction novel, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal (2009), "The Social Network" was a near-perfect blend of compelling legal thriller, introspective character drama, and sharp social commentary on the previous decade. A box office smash, the film was showered with almost universal praise from critics, many of whom cited it as being the best of the year's offerings. While much of the adulation fell upon Fincher and stars Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, Sorkin also earned his due with several critics' awards and a Golden Globe win for Best Screenplay. Only a month later, he received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Sorkin was poised for a repeat with his next film, "Moneyball" (2011), an adaptation of Michael Lewis' book about Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the unorthodox general manager of the Oakland As, who in 2002 turned baseball traditions upside-down in his efforts to turn a team with the lowest payroll into a playoff contender. While a majority of the critical praise was heaped on Pitt and co-star Jonah Hill, Sorkin earned his due alongside fellow scribe Steven Zaillian with an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, setting himself up for a second consecutive win.
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In the late 1990s, Sorkin was involved in writing the libretto for a stage musical based on the 1955 Oscar-winning Best Picture "Marty". After the success of "The West Wing", he dropped out of the project and was replaced by Rupert Holmes.
Sorkin was arrested in April 2001 for possession of a controlled substance when psychedelic mushrooms were discovered in his luggage at Burbank Airport. In June 2001, he was allowed to enter a drug rehabilitation center in lieu of jail time or a felony conviction. It was later found that Sorkin was carrying marijuana and crack cocaine as well as the mushrooms.
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