News Column

Legendary crime novelist Elmore Leonard dies at 87

August 20, 2013


Aug. 20--Elmore Leonard died this morning at his home in Bloomfield Village, according to the author's website. The master of crime fiction was 87.

A short statement posted to Leonard's web site said that he passed away at 7:15 a.m "at home surrounded by his loving family."

The statement ended with the note "more to follow." Calls and an e-mail made by the Free Press to Leonard's longtime researcher Gregg Sutter weren't immediately returned. The Associated Press is reporting that the author died from complications from a stroke he suffered a few weeks ago.

On August 5, Sutter confirmed that Leonard was being treated at an undisclosed area hospital after suffering a stroke the week before.

-- Photos: Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013

Sutter said that Leonard had been doing better each day and that he and members of Leonard's family had hoped to have good news to share soon.

Leonard has written 45 novels and was at work on a 46th, Sutter said at the time.

Several of of Leonard's books have been made into movies, including "Get Shorty, " Jackie Brown, " "Out of Sight" and "Hombre." The latest to get the big-screen treatment is "The Switch." A movie version starring Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def, Tim Robbins and Isla Fisher is scheduled to debut at next month's Toronto International Film Festival.

FX television series "Justified" is inspired by the Leonard short story "Fire in the Hole." The series' fifth season launches in January.

Leonard's novels were characterized by moral ambivalence about crime, black humor and wickedly acute depictions of human nature.

"When something sounds like writing, I rewrite it," Leonard often said. As author Ann Arensberg put it in a New York Times book review, "I didn't know it was possible to be as good as Elmore Leonard."

One amazing thing about Leonard's talent is how long it took the world to notice. He didn't have a best-seller until his 60th year, and few critics took him seriously before the 1990s.

He had some minor successes in the 1950s and '60s in writing Western stories and novels, a couple of which were made into movies. But when interest in the Western dried up, he turned to writing scripts for educational and industrial films while trying crime novels.

The first, "The Big Bounce," was rejected 84 times before it was published as a paperback in 1969.

Leonard followed up with several more well-written, fast-paced crime novels, including "Swag" (1976). Leonard was already following the advice he would later give to young writers: "Try to leave out the parts that people skip."

It took Barry Sonnenfeld to finally show Hollywood how to turn a Leonard novel into a really good movie. "Get Shorty" was the first to feel and sound like an Elmore Leonard novel.

Then Quentin Tarantino took a turn with "Rum Punch," turning it into "Jackie Brown," a campy, Blaxploitation-style film starring Pam Grier. But Steven Soderbergh stayed faithful to Leonard's story and dialogue with "Out of Sight."

Leonard married three times: to Beverly Cline in 1949, Joan Shepard in 1979 and, at the age of 68, to Christine Kent in 1993. He had five children, all from his first marriage.

In 2012, after learning he was to become a National Book Award lifetime achievement recipient, Leonard said he had no intention of ending his life's work.

"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 at the time. "And it's fun. 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.'"


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