James L. White, Who Penned ‘Ray’ Screenplay, Dies at 67

james l white dead obituary
Eric Charbonneau/Rex

James L. White, who wrote the original screenplay to the 2004 Ray Charles biopic “Ray,” starring Jaime Foxx, died early Thursday morning from complications resulting from pancreatic and liver cancer at his home in Santa Monica, his attorney, Matthew L. Saver, confirmed to Variety. He was 67.

White had two projects in motion: the untitled Dinah Washington biopic, which is in pre-production, and Bessie Smith biopic “Empress of the Blues”; neither has a director attached.

A statement from attorney Saver read in part: White “worked steadily and was commissioned by studios and networks to write many musical-artist-based scripts.  At the time of his passing he was about to direct his own screenplay.”

Taylor Hackford’s “Ray” won Oscars for Foxx’s leading performance and for sound mixing and was also nominated for best picture, director, film editing and costume design.

Responding to news of White’s passing, Hackford said: “Jimmy White was a lovely man and a terrific writer. His insights as a black man growing up in the South (Kentucky) were an invaluable asset in writing the script for ‘Ray.'”

White credited his good friend Sidney Poitier with giving him his first writing job, his attorney told Variety.

Survivors include White’s wife Elizabeth; two daughters; and a son.

At White’s request, there will be no services. According to his family, he joked, “Don’t throw me a funeral because I won’t be there.”

Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.


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  1. Linda Reed says:

    I was a classmate of Jim and he was a wonderful, kind and gentle man. The class of ’65 really missed him at our 50th reunion this summer. My prayers go out to his family.

  2. Al says:

    Worked with the film crew of “Ray” when it was shot in New Orleans back in 2003. Never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. White but I thouroughly enjoyed working on the film he wrote.

  3. I had the pleasure of getting to know Jimmy while he was writing “Ray,” as he had worked with our organization to help advise on the accuracy of the scenes dealing with Ray Charles’ drug use, addiction and treatment during the era in which the film is set. Jimmy was committed to “truth” in his work, whether that truth was as things really happened or the emotional truth at the heart of his storytelling. In turn, “Ray” earned a PRISM Award for its accurate depiction of addiction and treatment.

    We were very much fans of one another, and he was very generous with his time as a mentor for young writers we paired him with as part of our Generation Next program. I was very much looking forward to his Bessie Smith biopic as it was to also deal with some of the addiction issues that the singer faced. I will miss Jimmy’s gentle manner. A giant of his craft.

    Larry Deutchman
    Entertainment Industries Council

  4. Paul says:

    A terrific writer … and an even more terrific person. He will be deeply missed.

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