Separately, Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer led impressive lives. Sawyer was an aide to President Richard Nixon who assisted him with his post-Watergate memoirs before she conquered the world of journalism. She served as the first female correspondent on 60 Minutes, made her mark on PrimeTime Live, co-hosted Good Morning America and anchored ABC's World News. Nichols escaped life as a Jewish boy in Adolf Hitler's Germany by emigrating to the United States. He sometimes felt like an outsider and experienced severe poverty, but went on to dazzle audiences with Elaine May as the comedy duo Nichols and May, then used his talents to become an award-winning director. On top of their solo achievements, together Sawyer and Nichols became the quintessential New York power couple and created a touching love story.
The pair shared an instant connection
Nichols and Sawyer first met in 1986 while they were waiting to take a supersonic Concorde flight from Paris to New York. Yet the encounter almost didn't happen because Sawyer initially tried to avoid Nichols in the airport lounge. Her family was leaving Europe because her mother's heart monitor had displayed some worrisome readings (which fortunately proved to be a false alarm) and Sawyer was "wearing a juice stained turtleneck and ratty jeans," she explained to Vanity Fair. However, Nichols managed to come face to face with the journalist. He told her, "You're my hero," and she responded, "And you're mine."
Nichols' directing career had been through some ups and downs, but he was still renowned in his field. Sawyer was then a correspondent for 60 Minutes and thought Nichols would make an ideal interview subject for the show. She, therefore, suggested the two have lunch. But they shared a deeper connection from the very start.
Sawyer later told Harper's Bazaar, "I knew before he spoke. I knew before he was walking across the room. I knew something was happening. ... I knew life was changing."
Nichols suffered a breakdown that kept them apart
Though not really interested in appearing on 60 Minutes, Nichols went along with the possibility of being interviewed so he could connect with Sawyer. Sawyer enjoyed seeing Nichols as well, and at one lunch, she impressed him by quoting Thomas Mann in German. In 1996, she admitted in an interview with CBS, "After about 12 lunches, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe the lunches weren't about a negotiation for an interview anymore. And so, we kept having lunch and forgot the interview."
However, at one point the lunches stopped. Sawyer said Nichols "postponed seeing me again, and then it just sort of trailed off." At the time, his dependence on the sleeping pill Halcion had led to a breakdown. Nichols, a millionaire thanks to his success in the world of entertainment, lost touch with reality and became convinced that he was on the verge of destitution. He pulled away from Sawyer during this period telling Vanity Fair, "I didn’t call her, because I didn't want her to see me as I was."
Sawyer and Nichols reconciled and quickly decided on marriage
Nichols ceased taking Halcion — a gradual process, as his dependence meant dosages had to be reduced slowly to lessen the physical risks — and regained his equilibrium. He reached out to Sawyer after he felt better, and though she'd been hurt by his withdrawal, they quickly reconnected.
Nichols and Sawyer both had other partners when they'd started getting to know one another. She was living with the diplomat Richard Holbrooke, and Nichols, who'd divorced his third wife, novelist Annabel Davis-Goff, in 1986, had been dating another woman. But when their romance took off, he ended the relationship and Sawyer split from Holbrooke.
Nichols told Vanity Fair that things between him and Sawyer "went very, very fast" after they got back in touch: "We decided to get married in a month and a half." On April 29, 1988, the two wed on Martha's Vineyard. It was Nichols' fourth marriage and when someone asked Sawyer if it was her first, she replied, "This is my only marriage."
The couple fully integrated their lives
Nichols came into the relationship with three children: Daisy, from his second marriage to Margot Callas, and Max and Jenny, from his union with Davis-Goff. Nichols' children naturally became part of his life with Sawyer. Sawyer was also able to win over Davis-Goff by listing potential partners for Nichols who would have been far less suitable than Sawyer. Sawyer has admitted to occasional feelings of jealousy, but welcomed Nichols' ex-wife into the family circle created with the new marriage.
Nichols and Sawyer were both happy to boost the other's career. He attended network conventions along with his wife, ironing her clothes in their hotel room while she was working. Sawyer served iced tea during a meeting about one of his films. Life in television news often required travel, so the couple made plans to meet during longer trips. During the years she was on Good Morning America, which required her to leave their home at 4 a.m., he would wake before she was gone and advise her to "tell it like it is."
Nicols and Sawyer were together until the end
"My ultimate happiness," Nichols confided to New York Magazine in 2012, "began in 1988 when I married Diane." He shared her effect on his life with Vanity Fair: "True love made Pinocchio a real boy. It really happened, because she loves me and accepts things about me I can't imagine anyone accepting. I was astounded — I kept saying, 'Me?' I thought there wasn't enough of me for a whole person." And Sawyer was equally taken with her husband. She once told People, "He's generous and adventurous and a little wild and utterly kind. It’s that combination of something you’re completely sure of and something dangerous and interesting."
Nichols and Sawyer shared a glamorous life. Their homes included a luxurious New York City apartment and an estate on Martha's Vineyard (Nichols handled decorating duties, as Sawyer didn't care about furnishings or fabric swatches). Yet they took the most joy in simply being together. Nichols once told Entertainment Weekly, "We don’t go anywhere. We have our own secret life in our own little place. I don’t know any secrets about what makes a marriage work, except if you can marry Diane, you'll be in great shape."
Sawyer, who took on the role of "vegetable police" in their relationship, supported her husband as his health declined. She was home with him when he passed away from a heart attack on November 19, 2014. After his death, she could at least rest assured in the strength of Nichols' feelings for her. "I had loved other women before," he'd declared to The Hollywood Reporter in 2012, "but not like this." For Sawyer, there had been just one big regret about their relationship: "I wish I'd met my husband earlier."