Robert James Waller, author of the best-selling romance novel The Bridges of Madison County, has died.
Waller died Friday at his home in Fredricksburg, Texas. He had been battling cancer. The writer was 77.
The Bridges of Madison County was written in less than two weeks, and reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list in 1993 and stayed there for three years. The 1995 film adaptation starred Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and grossed $182 million.
The book was also turned into a popular Broadway play.
Set in the 1960s, Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County tells the story of the torrid affair between National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid and Italian farm wife Francesca Johnson. The two spend four days together until her husband returns, and Mrs. Kincaid resumes her former life. The novel has sold over 50 million copies and has been translated into more than 40 languages.
Born on Aug. 1, 1939, in Rockford, Iowa, Robert James Waller earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a doctorate from Indiana University. He was a professor and dean at UNI from from 1968 to 1991 before retiring to write full-time. Waller penned six other novels: Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend, Puerto Vallarta Squeeze, A Thousand Country Roads, High Plains Tango, and The Long Night of Winchell Dear.
Puerto Vallarta Squeeze was made into the 2003 movie starring Jonathan Brandis, Scott Glenn, and Harvey Keitel.
Robert James Waller also wrote five works of non-fiction and the complementary collection of music, The Ballads of Madison County.
The Bridges of Madison County remains Waller’s most famous work. It helped put Madison County, Iowa, on the global tourism map, as couples continue to flock to the area. Weddings on the bridges depicted in the book are common. Shops sell The Bridges of Madison County memorabilia, while photos of the area continue to spring up online.
According to an Associated Press report, Waller told an Iowa newspaper in the early ’90s that he imagined the story while driving from Des Moines to Cedar Falls after he photographed the famous covered bridges in Madison County: Cedar Covered Bridge, Cutler-Donahue Covered Bridge, Hogback Covered Bridge, Holliwell Covered Bridge, Imes Covered Bridge, and the Roseman Covered Bridge.
Friends say Robert James Waller will be remembered as a rural farm kid made good — a talent put to good use.
“It (was more than) he ever expected to happen to chicken farmer’s son from Rockford,” friend Scott Cawelti told the Cedar Falls Courier. “He’s sort of iconic for Iowa. He really made it big — 50 million books sold worldwide, a great movie with major stars, a Broadway show. That’s a whole new level of making it big. Robert became a touchstone for people.”
Robert James Waller made what was reported as a “seven-figure donation” to UNI in 2012, yet the exact amount has never been disclosed.
“UNI allowed me to explore my intellectual interests and my tastes, as a student, a professor and a dean,” Waller told the Courier. “As a professor, UNI provided me room to experiment with courses and course content; and as the first dean of the business school, to have some influence on the direction of the university. I am pleased to lend support to my alma mater and to help it grow as a first-class university.”
The gift also funds the Robert James Waller Scholarship in Economics, Robert James Waller Professorship in Economics, Robert James Waller College of Business Faculty Enrichment Fund, and the Charles T. Leavitt Scholarship in Economics.
The University of Northern Iowa’s Rod Library shares royalties from Waller’s books.
Waller was married twice. He wed Georgia Ann Wiedemeier in 1961; the marriage ended in 1997. He later married Linda Bow.
Waller leaves his wife and daughter, Rachel Waller.
[Featured Image by AP]