Charles Portis, 'True Grit' Author, Dead at 86

Charles Portis, the Arkansas author who wrote the influential Western novel True Grit, died on Monday at a hospice in Little Rock. He was 86 years old. His brother told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the cause of death was complications from Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Portis served in the Korean War and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a degree in journalism. He worked for the New York Herald Tribune fo four yeas before he left journalism in 1964 and returned to Arkansas.

Once back in his homestate, Potis focused exclusively on writing fiction. His fist novel was Norwood. Published in 1966, the book followed young former Marine Nowood Pratt who goes to New York City with con-man Grady Fring.

In 1968, Portis scored another hit with True Grit, which told the unlikely story of 14-year-old Mattie Ross and Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn, whom she hires to track down her father's killer. The novel was written in first person and instantly became a Western classic.

Just a year after the book was published, Hollywood already turned True Grit into a movie. John Wayne was cast as Rooster Cogburn, the role that finally won him a Best Actor Oscar. Kim Darby starred as Mattie, while Glen Campbell, another Arkansas native, played the young Texas Ranger La Beouf. The film was such a big hit that Wayne played Rooster again in the 1975 movie Rooster Cogburn, co-starring Katharine Hepburn. There was also a 1978 made-fo-TV movie, True Grit: A Further Adventure, with Warren Oates as Rooster.

In 2010, Joel and Ethan Coen took another crack at the story. Their version of True Grit stars Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. The critically acclaimed film earned 10 Oscar nominations.

Following the success of True Grit, Norwood was also turned into a film in 1970. Campbell and Darby also starred, with football player Joe Namath.

"He had this great amount of success with True Grit. I think it didn't sit well with him," Jonathan Portis told the Democrat-Gazette. "He didn't like to attract attention. He was comfortable around his friends, but shy around strangers. He preferred to go as an unknown person because he was a people watcher. He would hear snatches of conversations or see people who had a particular look and he would take note of that. You'd see them in his books."


Portis' other books are The Dog of the South (1979), Masters of Atlantis (1985) and Gringos (1991). His final published work was his 2012 non-fiction book Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany.

Photo credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images