Nora Ephron, whose divorce from Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein helped launch her long career as a screenwriter and director, has died at 71, according to the latest report out of Hollywood.

The nature of her illness is unknown although some reports said she had terminal cancer. There were concerns she might not make it through the night and succumbed early this evening (June 26), according to reports.

Nicholas Latimer, chief spokesman for her publisher Random House, said earlier today that the 71-year-old writer is alive, but described her as “very weakened,” according to Web site TheWrap.

Ephron’s bittersweet account of her failed marriage intermixed recipes for various dishes in the narrative and proved to be a bestseller. It was later made into a 1986 movie starring Meryl Streep.

It helped launch her career in Hollywood, where she earned three Academy Award nominations. She went on to write and direct such movies as “Silkwood,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, “You’ve Got Mail,” another Hanks romcom, and most recently “Julie & Julia,” a 2009 comedy drama also starring Streep and Amy Adams.

Gossip columnist Liz Smith fueled rumors of her death after she wrote a eulogy of her long-time friend, which was posted on the Web Tuesday (June 25).

The report caused confusion because Smith wrote of Ephron in the past tense. She later revised the article.

Ephron cut her teeth on hard-nosed society reporting in the 1960s at The New York Post, and quickly established herself as a witty and sharp-eyed reporters who became part of the so-called “New Journalism” movement.

It was distinguished from the he-said, she-said variety of straight newspaper reporting by its reliance on interpretation and description. Her bylines began to appear regularly in New York magazine, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine.

She married Bernstein in 1976, two years after he and fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, uncovered the White House connection to a “third-rate” burglary of Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Then President Nixon resigned over the scandal in 1974.

Her work on the movie script based on Woodward and Bernstein’s book “All the President’s Men” helped land her a job in Hollywood as a screenwriter.

Her first hit was 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally,” a romantic comedy starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Ryan’s fake orgasm scene in a restaurant made the movie an instant classic.

Ephron was born in New York City, the eldest of four daughters, and grew up in Beverly Hills, where her family moved when she was four years old. Parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, were both screenwriters.

She’s survived by sisters Delia and Amy, also screenwriters and Hallie Ephron, a journalist.