Jim Harrison, outdoorsman, gruffly comedic poet and author best known for Legends of the Fall, has died at age 78.
Harrison’s publisher, Grove Atlantic, sent word of his passing to the Associated Press through a spokesperson, Deb Seager. Harrison died on Saturday at his home in Patagonia, Arizona, but Seager did not know the cause of his death.
Harrison was known best for his sweeping, wild stories that drank deeply of poetry and easily shifted to the backlit cinematography in films that became classics. As his work would indicate, he loved the mountains of Montana and wild places of the Great Lakes.
“Michigan is two radically different places – the North and the South which makes for good drama and contrast.”
He was born near Grayling, a tiny blip on the AuSable River about an hour south of the great Straits of Mackinac. He loved the rocky terrain and thick spruce of the Upper Peninsula, one of many traits that caused him to be compared to Hemingway. But he said he never felt influenced by Ernest Hemingway, “though I suppose there is something inevitable there.”
— Grove Atlantic (@groveatlantic) March 17, 2016
According to NPR, Harrison described the “massive presence of Lake Superior” beside the “undifferentiated wilderness.”
“I had a wolf right outside my cabin years ago. It was a lovely experience.”
Author of more than three dozen books, including novels Dalva and True North, Harrison had also penned a collection of poetry, and loved to write about food. Early in his career, he had begun teaching at State University of New York at Stony Brook.
“It was an exciting place. I enjoy intelligent company, you know? But I like outside better than inside. And there weren’t enough places for me to feel free.”
He needed the wilderness, he said. But the writer’s life wasn’t easy. He was so broke that he couldn’t pay taxes, and couldn’t fill out an IRS form to send his daughter to college. The commercial failure of some of his early works, in particular his novel, Farmer, was devastating.
— Literary Hub (@thelithub) March 27, 2016
At age seven, he had been blinded in the left eye by a piece of glass. He said that it set him apart.
“So it seemed altogether natural to become obsessed, or feel that you had a calling for an art form in which you were also set apart. I always seem to be writing about semi-outcasts.”
This is evidently what drew him to create the character of Tristan, Harrison’s best-known nomad and outcast played by Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall.
“Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness. And they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy… or they become legend.”
The story has some truth behind it. Harrison’s wife had an ancestor, a mining engineer named William Ludlow. Harrison found his journals in his in-laws’ home and was inspired to write a story.
Legends of the Fall was published in 1979, and it catapulted to bestseller status.
“And now the one-eyed goofy, the black-sheep poet … has inadvertently struck it rich.”
Detroit Free Press said that Harrison was a “drinker” and Hollywood script writer, who was “close friends with Jack Nicholson and came to know Sean Connery, Orson Welles and Warren Beatty.”
Harrison worked on the screenplay for the 1994 film, and also worked on Revenge starring Kevin Costner and the Nicholson film Wolf. But he compared that process to a “shuddering elevator,” and managed to stay humble. The Free Press related that a film executive told him, “You’re just a writer.”
Harrison wrote the phrase on a piece of paper and taped it above his desk.
— NPR (@NPR) March 27, 2016
[Image via Razvan Vasile/Shutterstock]