Colleen McCullough was a successful Australian novelist who died Thursday at the age of 77. McCullough was a neurophysiological researcher at Yale who initially wrote books on the side. Her most famous novel, The Thorn Birds, was published in 1977 and turned into a miniseries in 1983.
In total, McCullough wrote 25 novels, the last released in 2013. She was named Officer of the Order of Australia in 2006 and, just under a decade earlier, one of the country’s 100 living national treasures. Late in life, McCullough continued to write even after macular degeneration had taken most of her eyesight, preventing her from engaging in other artistic pursuits.
As McCullough is being remembered for her literary gifts and influence, it is one obituary in the Australian that has raised eyebrows. In its opening paragraph, the obituary makes a less-than-flattering reference to her appearance.
“Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: ‘I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.'”
Reaction to the words in the Australian were swift. Many called the comments sexist. Everyday people and celebrities joined in to write their own “obituaries,” and those of some now-deceased historical figures, in the same vein as the paper, using the hashtag #MyOzObituary.
— Metro (@MetroUK) January 30, 2015
#myozobituary ‘Not being a woman, his physical appearance is not really that noteworthy.’
— Justin Lewis (@Mumbler3) January 30, 2015
Despite being a fat, Jewish lesbian who couldn’t spell, she was nonetheless an Emmy award winning television producer. #myozobituary
— Barbara Gaines (@barbara_gaines1) January 30, 2015
Plain as a pikestaff, loud and annoying, nevertheless carved a career in comedy. Which is odd, because women aren’t funny. #myozobituary
— Wendy Harmer (@wendy_harmer) January 30, 2015
Although a shoutymalodorous vulgarianhe nevertheless enjoyed most episodes of house hunters international. #MyOzObituary
— Craig Ferguson (@CraigyFerg) January 30, 2015
— Daisy McDonald (@daisy_mcdonald) January 30, 2015
— Kelly Luce (@lucekel) January 30, 2015
Despite the controversy, Guardian writer Steve Dow, who interviewed McCullough when she was 71, asserts the author would have laughed it off.
“McCullough probably couldn’t have cared less about the Australian’s guileless reflection on her body shape and appearance. Taking a seat during our interview, she described herself as being ‘like a whale going down.'”
McCullough died from kidney failure and is survived by her husband, Ric Robinson.
[Colleen McCullough image: Patrick Riviere, Getty Images via The Los Angeles Times]