Pat Conroy, whose vivid prose brought to life the storied streets of historic Charleston, the punishing rigor of The Citadel and his troubled childhood, died Friday at 70, not long after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“The water is wide and he has now passed over,” said his wife, novelist Cassandra King Conroy, said in a statement released by his publisher. Funeral arrangements are underway.
His longtime editor and publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday, issued a statement of tribute and mourning.
“Pat has been my beloved friend and author for 35 years, spanning his career from ‘The Prince of Tides’ to today,” she said. “He will be cherished as one of America’s favorite and bestselling writers, and I will miss him terribly.”
Conroy’s books – “The Boo,” “The Water is Wide,” “The Great Santini,” “The Lords of Discipline,” “The Prince of Tides,” “Beach Music,” “My Losing Season,” “The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life,” “South of Broad,” “My Reading Life” and “The Death of Santini,” – have sold more 20 million copies worldwide.
Conroy told his fans in a Feb. 15 Facebook post that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was ready for a fight.
More recently, his wife asked for privacy and prayers.
“I have been overwhelmed and incredibly grateful to all of you who have reached out with such kindness and love,” she posted on Feb. 24. “I know you all will understand if you do not hear from me for a while as we move forward with the necessary and various medical treatments. Pat, as you might expect, is facing this ordeal with great courage and with real gratitude to his doctors who have been so wonderful to us. He needs lots of rest and I intend to make sure he gets everything he needs through this ordeal. Your understanding and your thoughts and prayers are deeply appreciated by our family.”
Conroy was born in Atlanta and his robust bibliography inspired memorable filmmaking. “The Prince of Tides” was adapted into the Oscar-nominated movie starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte; and “The Great Santini” became a film with Robert Duvall, who was nominated for an Academy Award, and Blythe Danner.
“Santini,” a thinly veiled autobiography, created a rift in Conroy’s family. “In the transparent guise of Marine aviator Bull Meecham, (Conroy’s father) Donald Conroy was revealed as a reprehensible wife-beater and a physically abusive father,” the AJC’s Bo Emerson wrote in a Personal Journey about Conroy.
The notoriety eventually brought about a change in the late elder Conroy, and the family’s reconciliation inspired “The Death of Santini.”
The Citadel graduate wrote about his alma mater in the nonfiction “The Boo,” the affectionate nickname given to Assistant Commandant of Cadets Lt. Colonel Thomas N. Courvoisie. A similar character, Col. Thomas Berrineau, known as “The Bear,” shows up in the novel “Lords of Discipline.”
It, too, inspired a film by the same name, starring David Keith and Robert Prosky. Like “Santini,” it caused a personal rift for Conroy, as The Citadel community took issue with the jarring depiction of the school. “For 30 years he was all but barred from the campus,” the New York Times noted in a piece detailing Conroy’s reconciliation with his Citadel family.
More recent works include “South of Broad,” a sumptuously written novel set in Charleston; and “My Reading Life,” an illuminating nonfiction work that details his reading, and writing, styles.
Here’s the final message Conroy posted, revealing his diagnosis:
“Hey out there,
I celebrated my 70th birthday in October and realized that I’ve spent my whole writing life trying to find out who I am and I don’t believe I’ve even come close. It was in Beaufort in sight of a river’s sinuous turn, and the movements of its dolphin-proud tides that I began to discover myself and where my life began at fifteen.
I have recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. With the help of the wonderful people at M.D. Anderson I intend to fight it hard. I am grateful to all my beloved readers, my friends and my family for their prayers. I owe you a novel and I intend to deliver it.
My publisher will forward mail
c/o Doubleday, 1745 Broadway, 13th floor, New York, NY 10019