NEW YORK: American author Elmore Leonard, whose ear for gritty, realistic dialogue helped bring dozens of hard-bitten crooks, cops and cowboys to life in nearly 50 novels, died yesterday several weeks after a stroke. He was 87.
“Elmore passed away this morning at 7.15 am at home surrounded by his loving family,” according to an announcement on his website, elmoreleonard.com. It did not provide other details.
Leonard, who first wrote Westerns when he gave up his advertising agency job in the 1950s before moving on to crime and suspense books, suffered a stroke on July 29.
Known by the nickname Dutch, Leonard had his commercial breakthrough in 1985 with the publication of Glitz.
His following books, including Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Killshot, Bandits and Freaky Deaky, came out every year-and-a-half or so and were bestsellers.
Leonard’s 47th book, Blue Dreams, was expected to be published this year.
“I don’t have any reason to quit,” Leonard said in 2012, referring to his career. “I still enjoy writing.”
Hollywood had an affinity for Leonard’s books, and more than 25 of his works were made into movies or television shows, beginning with Paul Newman in the 1967 film Hombre. The Western story 3:10 to Yuma and the novel The Big Bounce were each adapted for film twice.
Movie producers and stars were so anxious to secure rights to his books that they were known to show up on Leonard’s doorstep on the publication date.
But audiences and even the author himself were often unhappy with the cinematic adaptations.
Leonard, who spent much of his life in Detroit and its suburbs, said many film-makers made the mistake of pushing the plots of what were character-driven stories, such as Get Shorty, which is about a likeable loan shark named Chili Palmer.
“My characters are what the books are about. The plot just kind of comes along,” Leonard told London’s Guardian in a 2004 interview. “Movies always want to concentrate on the action.”
His favourite movie adaptation of one of his novels was director-writer Quentin Tarantino’s reworking of Rum Punch into the film Jackie Brown.
The cable television series “Justified,” the tale of a US marshal in Kentucky that first aired in 2010, was based on Leonard’s work and he served as executive producer of the show.
Born in New Orleans, Leonard moved at age eight with his family to Detroit, where he became enthralled by the real-life exploits of gangsters Bonnie and Clyde and the fortunes of the city’s professional baseball team, the Detroit Tigers.
Reading Erich Maria Remarque’s tale All Quiet on the Western Front as a boy made him want to become a writer.