TV writer Padma Atluri (90210) died on Saturday night from leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She was 39.
Atluri, a 1995 Boston University communications graduate, began her writing career at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. A year later, she made a move to the entertainment industry, starting off as an assistant in the current department at Fox. In 1999, she joined HBO as manager of Awards & Festivals, position she held for 7 years. Then in 2006, Atluri, who grew up as a fan of I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, 60 Minutes, Family Ties and Growing Pains, made another career switch, to TV writing. She landed a gig on ABC’s dramedy Men in Trees, followed by a writing job on 90210 on which she worked until her death. 90210 executive producer Rebecca Sinclair called Atluri “an extraordinary woman.” “She was a terrific writer whose scripts bristled with vitality. She was an excellent producer whose incredible charisma and good humor endeared her to every single member of our cast and crew. And as a friend, she was peerless. Generous, gregarious, brave and hilarious, Padma was a great writer and a truly good person. Padma was special. She was incandescent. We miss her terribly and will be inspired by her forever.” The most recent 90210 episode written by Atluri premiered on Sept. 20. Her final episode will air on Feb. 21 and will be in memorium of her.
In late summer 2008, Atluri attended Camp Obama and worked on the final stages of the Obama campaign, chronicling her experiences on the Huffington Post. She has also contributed to Marie Claire, Oprah’s O Magazine and msn.com. Here is what Atluri’s friend, Men in Trees creator and former Sex and the City writer-producer Jenny Bicks, said of her:
I met Padma over 10 years ago when she worked at HBO and I worked on Sex and The City. I sat next to her at some shiny event and she made me laugh with her irreverence, her concerns over her dress (was it too tight? It wasn’t), her high-wattage smile. She shared her three goals: to become a writer, to be in a music video (not starring, just a walk-through), to go to a real fashion show.
We became friends. I was lucky enough to give my friend her first writing job—as a staff writer on my ABC show “Men In Trees”. She approached every story with enthusiasm, and was able to do what few seasoned writers can ever do—really put herself emotionally into a moment and write from that. She was a tireless worker with very little ego. She brought laughter and compassion into our writer’s room (along with recycling and cupcakes—lady loved her sugar). She brought so much joy and spirit that we created a faux show for her in the room called “That’s So Padma!” Exclamation points are important in describing our vibrant girl.
Padma taught us all that dreams are achievable. She started writing essays for magazines (another dream) and last fall, she got to go to New York fashion week. She stayed with my parents. My father fell so in love with her that he sent me a picture of just her legs—clad in crazy argyle tights that made him laugh.
Padma made everyone feel special and feel loved. And she told us this, repeatedly. This is a gift we all need to practice more often. I wish she could have gotten that walk-on in a music video before she passed, but now I realize she was the star all along and we were the lucky walk-ons.
I am sad to have lost her, but sadder still for those who never got to meet her.
Another Sex and the City alumna, Cindy Chupack, also met Atluri at HBO and went on to become close friends with her.
I quickly recognized that she had funny and beautiful stories to tell, stories that incorporated her unique and humorous perspective and her huge heart. I guess you could say I mentored her, but soon enough she was mentoring me and calling, even when she was sick, to see how my writing was going, which I now know she did for so many of her friends who were writers at all levels.
She was the kind of friend and writer who inspired you to do your best work and to forgive yourself when you needed a day off. She was a wonderful asset to have on staff (I worked with her on Men In Trees), sunny and always funny and hardworking and loyal. She was also a wonderful friend, the kind that doesn’t come along that often, the kind that you selfishly hate to see go, because it leaves a big void in your heart and in your days.
Padma was a bright light who, ever since she got sick, made a point of telling friends and family how much she loved them, how much they meant to her — it was like she was giving you the closure you might need just in case, every time she saw you or wrote you an email or card. She was also a fabulous magazine writer and I know it was a goal of hers to have a piece in O, The Oprah Magazine, which she did, and she also joined the Obama campaign and campaigned tirelessly, and I know that she was very happy to have helped him get into office. I can’t say enough about her, but her life and work and giant circle of friends says it all. She lived fully and left us too soon, and she will be missed greatly.
Atluri was diagnosed in early 2010, with her condition suddenly deteriorating over the holidays in December. In an interview for a BU newsletter last May, she was asked where she saw herself in 10 years. Here is her response: “Ten years from now, I really hope I am in television. I love television so much. Back when I started, people would ask me, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go into film?’ I always knew it was television because television is what spoke to me as a kid. My heart’s always going to stay with television—I can’t help it. That’s what’s inspired me in the beginning, and I hope that’s what’s going to inspire me to the end.”
Atluri is survived by her mother Hyma Atluri, sister Jyothi, brother Bob, niece Shivani as well as a small army of friends.