Adler died in Los Angeles, a spokesperson for Spielberg's production company, Amblin Entertainment, confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter

By Mike Miller
February 21, 2017 09:56 PM
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Credit: Scott Rudd/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Steven Spielberg’s mother, Leah Adler, has died at the age of 97.

Adler died in Los Angeles, a spokesperson for Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment, confirmed to PEOPLE.

The news of her passing was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Famous for her Peter Pan-style cropped blonde hair and big personality, Adler (affectionately known as Lee Lee to her family and friends) was an artist, musician, restaurateur and, admittedly, a bit of a kook. “I’m certifiable, dolly,” Adler once told PEOPLE. “If I weren’t so famous, they’d put me away.”

Spielberg and his mother had an especially close relationship, and he often credited her for his artistic inclinations. The daughter of a linguist mother and a classical guitarist father, Adler had a deep love of art and independent thinking. She learned to play the piano at 5, and later studied at the Music Conservatory in Cincinnati. She would go on to graduate from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in Home Economics.

She married Spielberg’s father, electrical engineer Arnold Meyer Spielberg, in February 1945. They had four children – Steven, Anne, Sue and Nancy. From Cincinnati, the family moved to Haddonfield, N.J., where they spent seven years before moving again to Arizona 1957.

“Mom kind of wrote her own book.” Spielberg previously told PEOPLE of his mother’s parenting. For instance, when he fought with his sisters, Adler would arbitrate by listening to both sides and shrugging before telling her kids to go back to arguing. “We’d be so stunned that we’d make peace with one another,” he remembered.

While living in Arizona, she opened The Village Shop in Scottsdale to showcase the works of local artists. The family later relocated to Los Gatos, California in 1964, where they lived for two years.

In 1965, after years of tension in her marriage, Adler and Arnold divorced. A year later, Leah married Bernie Adler, another electrical engineer. “He was so funny, so bright, so moral,” she told PEOPLE of Adler.

The Adlers remained in Arizona with Sue and Nancy until eventually moving to Los Angeles, where they opened a kosher restaurant called The Milky Way.

While living near his mother in Los Angeles, Spielberg told PEOPLE, “I’m on a personal crusade to spoil my mother.” For one birthday, he took over the Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus after hours and gave his mother her pick of anything in the store. He even offered to pay for cosmetic surgery, to which Adler replied, “‘Steve, listen, honey, we’re not going to fix my face, we’re going to decorate it.”

Spielberg stopped into his mother’s restaurant from time to time and ordered his favorite dish: fried smelt. “Is there another mother in the universe who has what I have?” Adler asked. “I wonder.”

She is survived by her four children, Steven (wife Kate), Anne (husband Dan), Sue (husband Jerry), and Nancy (husband Shimon), 11 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, please make a donation to your favorite charity in Leah’s name.