Cold war thriller writer Tom Clancy dies at age 66

Tom Clancy said he got his big break when Ronald Reagan praised 'Red October', pushing him onto the New York Times best-seller list

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 7:30pm


Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy, whose hi-tech cold war thrillers such as The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games made him the most widely read and influential military novelist of his time, has died. He was 66.

Penguin Group (USA) said Clancy had died on Tuesday in Baltimore. The publisher did not disclose a cause of death.

Clancy arrived on best-seller lists in 1984 with The Hunt for Red October. He sold the manuscript to the first publisher he tried, the Naval Institute Press, which had never bought original fiction.

A string of other best-sellers soon followed, including Red Storm Rising, Patriot Games, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and Without Remorse.

Clancy had said his dream had been simply to publish a book, hopefully a good one, so that he would be in the Library of Congress catalogue. Four of his books, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears, were later made into movies. A fifth, based on his desk-jockey CIA hero "Jack Ryan", is set for release in December. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it stars Chris Pine and Keira Knightley.

His 17th novel, Command Authority, is also due to be published that month.

Born in Baltimore on April 12, 1947, to a mailman and his wife, Clancy entered Loyola College as a physics major but switched to English in his second year, saying later that he was not smart enough for the rigours of science.

Ironically, his novels carried stiff doses of scientific data.

After graduation in 1969, he married his wife Wanda and joined her family's insurance business, all the while scribbling down ideas for a novel.

In 1979, Clancy began Patriot Games, in which he invented his hero, CIA agent Jack Ryan. In 1982, he put it aside and started The Hunt For Red October, basing it on a real incident in November 1979 in which a Soviet missile frigate called the Storozhevoy attempted to defect.

In real life, the ship did not make it, but in Clancy's book the defection is a success.

By a stroke of luck, president Ronald Reagan got Red October as a Christmas gift and joked at a dinner that he was losing sleep because he couldn't put the book down - a statement Clancy later said helped put him on The New York Times best-seller list.

It led to a string of hits, both on the page and in Hollywood blockbusters. He even ventured into video games with a series of best-selling games.

"He was a consummate author, creating the modern-day thriller, and was one of the most visionary storytellers of our time," Penguin Group (USA)'s executive David Shanks said yesterday.

Clancy continued to play off - and sometimes almost anticipate - world events, as in the preSeptember 11, 2001, paranoid thriller Debt of Honor, in which a jumbo jet destroys the US Capitol during a meeting of Congress.

Clancy lived in rural Maryland. In 1993 he joined a group of investors led by Baltimore attorney Peter Angelos who bought baseball's Baltimore Orioles from businessman Eli Jacobs.