Author Pat Conroy, whose beloved works The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides are set against the vistas of the South Carolina coast that was his home, was lauded Saturday as a great chronicler of the human condition and a humble and loving soul.
Conroy, 70, died Friday at his home in Beaufort, about an hour south of Charleston, surrounded by family and friends at the time, according to his publisher.
The heavy-set author died less than a month after announcing on Facebook that he was battling cancer. He promised to "fight it hard" and told his fans "I owe you a novel and I intend to deliver it."
Funeral arrangements were still being worked out Saturday.
Barbra Streisand, who starred in and directed the movie version of Conroy's The Prince of Tides posted a picture of herself with Conroy on Instagram. The 1991 movie starring Streisand and Nick Nolte earned seven Oscar nominations, including best picture.
"He was generous and kind, humble and loving . such a joy to work with. I was so honored that he entrusted his beautiful book to me," she wrote. "Pat's natural language was poetry.he wrote sentences that are like an incantation."
While Conroy had been ill in recent weeks, last October the University of South Carolina Beaufort held a three-day literary festival featuring Conroy and discussions of his work and included a screening of The Great Santini. The event culminated with a 70th birthday party in his honour.
"The water is wide and he has now passed over," his wife, novelist Cassandra Conroy, said in a statement from publisher Doubleday.
Nan A. Talese, Conroy's longtime editor and publisher, said that the late author "will be cherished as one of America's favourite and bestselling writers, and I will miss him terribly."
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, who had known Conroy most of his adult life called him "the great chronicler of the time and place that I call home. He saw it with clarity. He wrote of it with purpose."
'The reason I write is to explain my life to myself'
Conroy, who sold 20 million books worldwide, candidly and expansively shared details of growing up as a military brat and his anguished relationship with his abusive father, Marine aviator and military hero Donald Conroy. He also wrote of his time in military school, The Citadel in Charleston, and his struggles with his health and depression.
"The reason I write is to explain my life to myself," Conroy said in a 1986 interview. "I've also discovered that when I do, I'm explaining other people's lives to them."
Much of his youth was spent in the shadow of Donald Conroy, who "thundered out of the sky in black-winged fighter planes, every inch of him a god of war," as Pat Conroy would remember. The author was the eldest of seven children in a family constantly moving from base to base, a life described in The Great Santini, the film of which starred Robert Duvall as the relentless and violent patriarch.
The 1976 novel initially enraged Conroy's family, but the movie three years later made such an impression on his father that he claimed credit for boosting Duvall's career. The book also helped achieve peace between father and son.
"I grew up hating my father," Conroy said after his father died in 1998. "It was the great surprise of my life, after the book came out, what an extraordinary man had raised me." He would reflect on his relationship with his father in the 2013 memoir The Death of Santini.
The Prince of Tides, published in 1986, brought Conroy a wide audience, selling more than 5 million copies with its story of a former football player from South Carolina with a traumatic past and the New York psychiatrist who attempts to help him.
It was not greeted warmly by reviewers.
"Inflation is the order of the day. The characters do too much, feel too much, suffer too much, eat too much, signify too much and, above all, talk too much," said The Los Angeles Times Book Review.
But Conroy ignored the reviews and focused on the advice he once got from novelist James Dickey, his professor at the University of South Carolina.
"He told me to write everything I did with all the passion and all the power you could muster," Conroy recalled. "Don't worry about how long it takes or how long it is when you're done. You know, he was right."
Pat Conroy's other books included "South of Broad," set in Charleston's historic district, and "My Reading Life," a collection of essays that chronicled his lifelong passion for literature.
He was born Donald Patrick Conroy on Oct. 26, 1945.
Conroy was married three times and had two daughters. Although he lived around the world, he always considered South Carolina his home and lived in the coastal Lowcountry since the late 1990s.
"Make this university, this state, yourself and your family proud," Conroy told University of South Carolina graduates in 1997.
"If you have a little luck, any luck at all, if you do it right, there's a great possibility you can teach the whole world how to dance."