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Award-winning writer Larry McMurtry dead at 84

Archer City native won highest awards for his novels

Larry McMurtry, the award-winning writer from Archer City, has died. He was 84. 

A family spokesperson said McMurtry died Thursday night of heart failure “surrounded by his loved ones who he lived with including long time writing partner Diana Ossana, his wife Norma Faye and their 3 dogs." 

The statement did not say where McMurtry died. 

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, McMurtry wrote novels, screenplays and essays. He won a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and many other literary and film awards. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barrack Obama in 2015, with the White House writing, “Mr. McMurtry's work evokes the character and drama of the American West with stories that examine quintessentially American lives.” 

Although his fiction spanned settings ranging from Hollywood to the newspaper business, he was probably best known to readers for his westerns. His novel, “Lonesome Dove” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was made into a television series. He followed it with two sequels. 

Many of McMurtry’s stories were adapted in movies or television programs. 

His novel “Terms of Endearment” was adapted into a movie that won Academy Awards for Best Picture and for Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine.  

He and co-writer Ossana won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain.” He enjoyed early success with his 1961 novel, “Horseman, Pass By,” which was adapted into the movie, “Hud,” which starred Paul Newman. 

McMurtry fictionalized his hometown of Archer City for the setting of “The Last Picture Show,” a sexually-explicit novel depicting coming of age for youth in a small Texas town. The book won critical acclaim and was adapted into a critically and commercially successful movie that was shot on location in Archer City and Wichita Falls. He followed it with a sequel titled “Texasville” that was also adapted into a movie that was filmed on location. 

McMurtry grew up on a ranch outside Archer City. In a memoir he recalled living in a “bookless” household. 

“I don’t remember either of my parents ever reading me a story—perhaps that’s why I’ve made up so many,” he wrote. 

The absence of books in his youth sparked a life-long passion for them. He opened the Blue Pig bookstore in New York and later acquired a row of storefronts on the main street in his hometown where he opened “Booked Up,” a vast and eclectic assortment of volumes once billed as the largest bookstore in the country. 

Authors such as Susan Sontag and Cormac McCarthy could sometimes be seen browsing the aisles and McMurtry would often be found marking prices in the thousands of books. Many of the books were auctioned off in 2012 and now only one shop remains open. 

“If you bought a book there, chances are Larry marked the price himself,” said Greg Giddings, an Archer City High School graduate who is now Associate Professor of English at Midwestern State University. 

Giddings said McMurtry once told him he got into writing so he could have the money to buy books. 

He said McMurtry described himself as a “minor regional novelist,” and would often disparage his own work, being dismissive of “Lonesome Dove,” arguably his most popular novel.  

“He could be irascible and contrarian, but if you sat and talked to him, he couldn’t be more gracious,” Giddings said. He said McMurtry once gave him a handwritten list of books he should read. 

Although he lived in a variety of locations during his lifetime, McMurtry maintained a home in Archer City, a mansion built by a banker. He once told the Times Record News he had looked at the home when he was a child and decided someday he would own it. 

He entertained cast members of “The Last Picture Show” at the booklined home during the movie’s 30th anniversary. Actors Cloris Leachman and Jeff Bridges sipped wine in the parlor while director Peter Bogdanovich sunned on the porch. 

McMurtry married twice, first to English Professor Jo Scott and in a civil ceremony in Archer City in 2011 to Kesey, the widow of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” author Ken Kesey. He had a son by his first marriage.

“To consider the impact he had on literary world -- considering where he came from -- is absolutely astounding,” Giddings said.