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Hollywood Screenwriter turned IRA gunrunner dies at 85

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William W. ("Bill") Norton, a former Hollywood screenwriter turned gunrunner for the IRA, died from a heart aneurysm on October 2, at the age of 85.

Norton is best known for writing the 1968 comedy-western “The Scalphunters,” directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis. He also wrote several movies for Burt Reynolds, including “Sam Whiskey” and “White Lightning.”

Norton, who was an ex-Communist, retired from show business in 1985. He began procuring guns for rebel groups in Central America. Later, he and his wife Eleanor became involved with a faction of the Irish Republican Army. They were eventually arrested and imprisoned and spent several years in exile.

"He really was like one of his movie characters, an outlaw on the run,” said his son, television director Bill L. Norton.

Born on Sept. 24, 1925 in Ogden, Utah to an Irish mother, Norton moved to California with his parents during the Great Depression. He became interested in writing in high school, and after serving in the Army during World War II, he worked briefly as a reporter and then for the California State Park Service before getting into the movie business.

Sympathetic to the IRA’s campaign, Norton and his wife moved to Ireland, and with their own money, began smuggling guns in Northern Ireland from California for the Irish National Liberation Army.

In June 1986, the Nortons were apprehended in the French port city of Le Havre by French authorities during their second smuggling trip. The Nortons, as well as three Irish nationalists, were arrested and convicted on gun-smuggling charges. Norton served 19 moths and was freed in early 1988. His wife was released after five months due to medical reasons. The couple moved to Managua, Nicaragua and later to Cuba. He reentered the U.S. in 1990, eventually settling in Santa Barbara.

"If you could witness as I have the tragic results of attacks upon homes and upon whole families by masked civilian hit squads because the families were under suspicion of favoring the IRA, I think you might well be moved to the same action," Norton told the L.A. Weekly in 1987.

He is survived by his wife, sons Bill and Jonathan Norton, daughters Sally and Joan Norton, Theresa Wolverson; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Norton’s wish was to have his ashes spread in Northern Ireland.

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