Hugh Leonard, the Irish playwright and commentator whose father-and-son drama "Da" won critical acclaim on Broadway and was the basis of a 1988 film starring Martin Sheen, died on Thursday, February 12 at the age of 82. Leonard had been receiving hospital treatment for some time. Over the course of his and long and prolific career Leonard wrote and adapted several screenplays and books for television, including his adaptation of the James Plunkett novel "Strumpet City" for RTE, Ireland's national broadcaster. He also wrote two evocative volumes of autobiography titled "Home Before Night" in 1979 and "Out After Dark" in 1989. His weekly column for the Irish Sunday Independent was very popular with readers for many years. Leonard, who was known as Jack to his close friends, was born John Keyes Byrne in 1926 in the village of Dalkey, Co. Dublin that would later feature prominently in his writing. Leonard took on his pen name in the 1950s to hide from his Irish civil service employers his double life as an aspiring, outspoken writer. In 1959 he married Paule Jacquet. They had a daughter, Danielle. After more than 40 years together, Paule died suddenly in 2000. However, Leonard eventually found love again, marrying Kathy Hayes in June 2007. On Friday Irish political leaders praised Leonard's work both as a playwright and a journalist. "Hugh will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of his company and counsel throughout the years," said Irish President Mary McAleese. "He infused his work with a unique wit, all the while demonstrating a great intuition, perceptiveness and forgiveness of human nature." In a statement Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Brian Cowen recalled the Independent column by Leonard. "Hugh Leonard was a man of strong views and great wit and these traits were reflected in his writings. His "Curmudgeon" column which ran for many years in the Sunday Independent was required reading and was always guaranteed to raise a smile," he added. Leonard's most famous plays include "The Big Birthday," "A Leap in the Dark," "The Poker Session," "The Patrick Pearse Motel" and "The Au Pair Man." Fellow Irish playwright Bernard Farrell paid tribute to his friend in the press and recalled his wonderful sense of humor. Farrell said Leonard had been "very low" in recent weeks and that he had passed away "very gently" at about 4:30 a.m. in Dalkey Thursday morning.
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