DALLAS (AP) – Larry McMurtry, the prolific and popular author who took readers to the ancient American West in his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove” and returned them to modern landscapes in works such as his emotional story of a mother-daughter relationship in ” Terms of Endearment “, has passed away. He was 84.
McMurtry died of heart failure Thursday night, according to a family statement released through a publicist Friday. The statement did not say where he died, but noted that he will be buried “in his treasured home state of Texas.”
McMurtry, who in his later years had divided his time between his small hometown of Texas, Archer City and Tucson, Arizona, wrote dozens of books, including novels, biographies and collections of essays. He worked simultaneously as a bookseller and screenwriter and co-wrote the Oscar-winning script for the movie “Brokeback Mountain”.
Several of McMurtry’s books became feature films, including Oscar winners “The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment”. His epic 1986 Pulitzer winner, “ Lonesome Dove, ” about a cattle drive from Texas across the Great Plains in the 1870s, was turned into a hit TV miniseries starring Robert Duvall, who often considered the project a personal favorite. and likened his role as retired Texas Ranger Augustus McCrae to acting in “Hamlet.”
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“‘Lonesome Dove’ was an attempt to more or less demythologize the myth of the Old West,” McMurtry told The Associated Press in an interview in 2014. But, he added, “They’ll make it into something romantic. whatever you do.”
The Last Picture Show, his third novel, became a classic with its coming-of-age story set in a small Texas town. He and director Peter Bogdanovich were nominated for an Academy Award for their script for the movie, filmed in Archer City, about 140 miles northwest of Dallas. The film adaptation of “Terms of Endearment”, released in 1983, was written and directed by James L. Brooks and received Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, with awards for star Shirley MacLaine and supporting actor Jack Nicholson.
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“I’m here thinking about the greatness of Larry McMurtry,” Brooks tweeted Friday. “One of the best writers ever. I remember him sending me to adjust “Conditions” – his refusal to let me keep him in awe. And the fact that he personally worked at the till of his rare bookstore while doing just that. “
McMurtry was born on June 3, 1936 in a family of farmers. McMurtry attended what is now the University of North Texas at Denton and Rice University in Houston and was a member of Stanford University’s Stegner writing fellowship.
He wrote his first novel, “Horseman, Pass by”, at the age of 25 in 1961. It was made into the movie “Hud” starring Paul Newman, which came out two years later.
McMurtry opened his first used and rare bookstore in 1971 in Washington, DC, and later opened other stores in Houston, Dallas and Tucson.
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Lured by cheap real estate, he opened his Booked Up store in Archer City in the mid-1980s. In the end, the store in Archer City was all that remained. He downsized the store – both in volume and storefronts – in an effort called The Last Book Sale, but kept about 200,000 volumes.
He kept about 28,000 books in his nearby home in Archer City. “I am very attached to the books. I need them. I have to be there,” he told The AP in 2014.
McMurtry’s writing collaboration with Diana Ossana began after she helped him come out of a breakdown following quadruple heart bypass surgery in 1991. They won the Academy Award for their screenplay for the 2005 film ‘Brokeback Mountain’, based on a short story by Annie Proulx about two cowboys who fall in love. His most recent novel, The Last Kind Words Saloon, was released in 2014.
He told the Associated Press in 1994 that his life had been peripatetic throughout the 1980s – traveling between his bookstores across the country and a home in Los Angeles. Then the surgery forced him to stop moving. “It so happened that I stopped at Diana’s kitchen table,” he said.
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The two, both divorced, had met at a catfish restaurant in Tucson and made friends. After surgery, McMurtry spent his time sleeping in Ossana’s guest bedroom, writing “Streets of Laredo” on a typewriter in her kitchen, or staring out the window.
She helped edit “Streets of Laredo” and then began encouraging him to accept screenwriting offers. “I got a lot of offers from the movies then. I was very popular, but I had no confidence. I had really serious heart problems. I got a lot of offers and I think she just got tired of turning them down,” he said.
When the offer came in for a script about Depression-era bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd, Ossana and McMurtry took it together and went on to write the novel “Pretty Boy Floyd.” They then worked on dozens of scenarios.
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He married Jo Ballard in 1959 and three years later the couple had a son, singer-songwriter James McMurtry. They divorced in 1966. In 2011 he married for the second time: to Norma Faye Kesey, the widow of old friend Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. They held their wedding ceremony at the Archer City bookstore.
McMurtry’s family statement said he died surrounded by loved ones, including Ossana; his wife; his son; his grandson, Curtis; and his goddaughter, Sara Ossana. He is also survived by his sisters, Sue and Judy, and a brother, Charlie
Don Graham, a professor of English and American literature at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a 2014 interview with the AP that McMurtry is “a storyteller par excellence.” “He’s a great creator of characters and dialogue. That’s one of the reasons he’s had so much success in Hollywood,” said Graham.