Pat Conroy is dead at 70. The bestselling author brought the Southern experience to life on both the pages of his books and in the hit movies made from his novels for decades.
He was known as one of the greatest American storytellers of our time. Pat Conroy draw upon his childhood and coming of age experiences in his bestselling novels. The Great Santini and the Prince of Tides are just two of his most popular books, which were also turned into critically-acclaimed feature films.
Pat Conroy died of pancreatic cancer on Friday evening in his native and beloved South Carolina. He was surrounded by loved ones in his Beaufort home, according to MSN. Pat had reportedly suffered from various health problems in recent years, including a failing liver, high blood pressure, and diabetes, the New York Times reports.
“The water is wide and he has now passed over,” Conroy’s wife and fellow novelist, Cassandra Conroy, said in a statement released after the author’s death. Funeral arrangements are still reportedly being made.
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Conroy grew up as a “miitary brat,” much like the child characters in The Great Santini. He worked in details about his complicated relationship with an abusive father, the Marine aviator hero, Donald Conroy, in the bestseller. He was the oldest of seven children that often moved from base to base following their military hero of a father. In the equally dramatic and popular Lords of Discipline, Conroy told the story of his time in military school and the health and depression issue he battled while at the academy.
When The Great Santini was published in 1976, the Conroy family was initially livid. But, just three years later when the hit movie was released, Donald Conroy watched the film which he said left a profound impression on the whole family. The elder Conroy said that he should be given some credit for the huge career boost it gave to the actor who portrayed the Marine father in the movie, Robert Duvall.
“The poor guy got a role with some meat on it,” Donald Conroy said about Duvall’s role. The now legendary actor had appeared in two Godfather movies before being cast in The Great Santini.
The book and ultimately helped to reconnect the father and son and bring a sense of peace to the two men.
But the book also helped achieve peace between father and son.
“I grew up hating my father. It was the great surprise of my life, after the book came out, what an extraordinary man had raised me,” Conroy said. “The reason I write is to explain my life to myself. I’ve also discovered that when I do, I’m explaining other people’s lives to them.”
Pat Conroy attended the Citadel at his father’s insistence and went into teaching after graduation in 1967. Although the Conroy children attended 11 schools in 12 years, the finally settled in Beaufort, where the novelist ultimately taught school.
He credited fellow southern writer, Thomas Wolfe, as his inspiration for becoming a novelist. Conroy said that when he read Wolfe, he felt for the first time an author was writing directly to him.
“He was articulating a vision of the world that seemed ready for me,” the author once said.
While working as a teacher, Conroy borrowed $1,500 to have a vanity press publish The Boo, a loving portrait of Citadel Assistant Commandant Colonel Thomas Courvoisie.
Pat Conroy also spent one year teaching poor children on Daufuskie Island, an isolated island in South Carolina near the affluent Hilton Head vacation spot. His experience there provided the material for The Water is Wide in 1972. The bestselling and award-winning novel was made into the feature film, Conrack.
Pat Conroy was married three times and has two daughters.
[Image by AP Photo/Lou Krasky]