Acclaimed American crime novelist Elmore Leonard, whose witty, gritty and undeniably cool stories were turned into Hollywood hits such as Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, Get Shorty and TV's Justified, has died at the age of 87.
Leonard "passed away this morning at 7:15 a.m. at home surrounded by his loving family," according to an update posted Tuesday on his website.
The writer, based for decades in Bloomfield Township, Mich., northwest of Detroit, died of complications from a stroke suffered in early August, according to his longtime researcher, Gregg Sutter.
Though born in New Orleans, he and his family eventually settled in Detroit in the mid-1930s. After serving in the U.S. Navy in the mid 1940s, he enrolled in the University of Detroit and studied English and philosophy.
Despite a busy career as an advertising writer during the 1950s, Leonard started a career writing fiction on the side. His dedication was evident in his work ethic: he would wake in the early hours to spend time writing Westerns before heading in for a day at the Campbell-Ewald Agency.
He published dozens of short stories (such as 3:10 to Yuma), a handful of novels (including his debut, The Bounty Hunters, and the acclaimed Hombre) and sold movie rights to several projects before feeling comfortable enough to quit advertising to focus on fiction full-time in 1961. Even then he maintained a dedicated schedule of writing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
'I try to leave out the parts that people tend to skip' —Elmore Leonard
During the 1970s and 1980s, Leonard began to gain a devoted and ever-larger following with a switch to crime novels, including The Big Bounce, Glitz, Get Shorty, Rum Punch, Out of Sight and The Switch.
Influenced by Ernest Hemingway, he become known and was celebrated for his crisp and spare writing style, snappy dialogue, punchy noir tales, dark humour and stories full of entertaining, morally ambiguous characters: schemers, con men, crooks and killers.
Leonard, who often said his axiom was " to leave out the parts that people tend to skip," shared his "10 Rules of Writing" with the New York Times in 2001. That list was published in book form in 2007.
Adapted from Elmore Leonard's writing
- Films: 3:10 to Yuma (original and remake); The Tall T; Hombre; The Big Bounce; The Moonshine War; Valdez is Coming; Joe Kidd; Mr. Majestyk; Stick; 52 Pickup; The Rosary Murders; Cat Chaser; Get Shorty; Touch; Jackie Brown; Out of Sight; The Big Bounce (II); Be Cool; Killshot; Life of Crime.
- Short films: The Tonto Woman; Sparks.
- TV: Moment of Vengeance; High Noon, Part II; Desperados; Glitz; Border Shootout; Split Images; Last Stand at Saber River; Pronto; Elmore Leonard’s Gold Coast; Maximum Bob; Karen Sisco; Justified.
Since his breakout success in the 1980s, he earned a host of honours, including the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers, the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the Diamond Dagger Award from the Crime Writers' Association of Great Britain and, most recently, an honorary U.S. National Book Award for lifetime achievement in 2012.
Leonard was married three times: to the late Beverly Cline in 1949, the late Joan Shepard in 1979 and, at the age of 68, to Christine Kent in 1993 (the couple divorced in 2012). He is survived by five children from his first marriage and grandchildren.
A devoted writer until the end, Leonard had been working on his 46th book when he suffered the stroke earlier this month, according to Sutter.
Inspired by the producers of critically acclaimed cable TV series Justified, which is based on his novella Fire in the Hole, Leonard had published his 45th novel, Raylan, in 2012. Other adaptations of his stories are also set to hit the big screen, including the film Life of Crime, based on his story The Switch, which will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
"I probably won't quit until I just quit everything — quit my life — because it's all I know how to do," he told The Associated Press in 2012.
"I do have fun writing, and a long time ago, I told myself, 'You got to have fun at this, or it'll drive you nuts.'"