A Texas-born giant of American literature, who once called himself “a minor writer,” has died. Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist known for bringing the Lone Star State and the West to millions around the globe through his pages, died on Friday, March 26 at 84, his publisher Liveright confirmed.
The novelist and screenwriter penned more than 50 novels and screenplays, including Hud, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, and Lonesome Dove. He won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove, which centers on two wily, retired Texas Rangers, later played by Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in a wildly popular 1989 television miniseries.
McMurtry and cowriter Diana Ossana adapted the screenplay for Annie Proulx’s short story Brokeback Mountain, which would go on to garner eight Academy Award nominations with three wins, including McMurtry and Ossana for Best Adapted Screenplay.
He was a furious writer: as CultureMap previously noted, McMurtry churned out The Last Picture Show, about life in a small Texas town in the 1950s, “in about three weeks.” He wrote All My Friends are Going to be Strangers (set in and around Houston) in five weeks, and The Desert Rose in a dizzying 22 days.
His early Texas days crafted his later works. He was born in Archer City, Texas in 1936 to a ranching family, who, ironically, owned no books. “Simply put, it’s not a nice town,” McMurtry wrote of Archer City, where he spent part of his time, adding that locals were “indifferent” to his massive bookshop operation there. McMurtry attended the University of North Texas and later, Rice University.
While in Houston, he managed a bookstore called the Bookman. The Bayou City informed several of his books: Moving On, All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers, Terms of Endearment, Somebody’s Darling, Some Can Whistle, and The Evening Star.
Though the scribe lived in other Texas cities, including Fort Worth and Austin, he called Houston “by any measure the most interesting city” in the state.
He married Josephine Ballard in 1959; the couple had a son, singer-songwriter James McMurtry. In 2011, the divorced McMurtry married Faye Kesey, the widow of longtime friend Ken Kesey. The marriage ceremony was held in the Archer City bookstore.
Prickly, enigmatic, and positively Texan, McMurtry perpetually downplayed his iconic status. “Little of my work in fiction is pedestrian,” he once noted, “but, on the other hand, none of it is really great.”