Larry McMurtry, Oscar-Winning 'Brokeback Mountain' Writer, Dead at 84

Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist known for his realistic and unromantic view of the American West in his novels and screenplays, died on Thursday at his home in Archer City, Texas. He was 84. Diana Ossana, his friend and writing partner, told the New York Times the cause was congestive heart failure.

McMurtry, who was born in Archer City and earned degrees from the University of North Texas and Rice University, published over 30 novels and collections of essays in his life. His most famous novel was Lonesome Dove, a sweeping novel about retired Texas Rangers who herd stolen cattle from the Rio Grande to Montana. The book earned McMurtry a Pulitzer Prize in 1986. The book inspired an acclaimed miniseries starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. It aired in 1989. McMurtry wrote three sequels to Lonesome Dove, and four miniseries also followed.

The author's work was attractive to filmmakers of every generation since the 1960s. In 1963, Martin Ritt directed the Paul Newman-starring Hud, a film adaptation of McMurtry's first novel, Horseman, Pass By. The Last Picture Show, the acclaimed 1971 film that made Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd stars, was an adaptation of McMurtry's 1971 novel of the same name about dreary life in a 1950s Texas town. In 1975, McMurtry published Terms of Endearment, which would later be adapted into the film that won the 1983 Best Picture Oscar.

McMurtry wrote several screenplays himself and won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Brokeback Mountain with Ossana. His script was inspired by a short story by E. Annie Proulx and the film centered on two American cowboys (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) who fall in love. McMurtry was also nominated for co-writing The Last Picture Show script with Peter Bogdanovich. McMurtry and Ossana's last screenplay together was Good Joe Bell, a Western starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. The movie premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.

McMurtry is survived by his second wife, Norma Faye Kesey, whom he married in 2011. He is also survived by his son, musician James McMurtry; two sisters; a brother; and his grandson.

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"Larry is like Charles Dickens," Robert Weil, who served as McMurtry's editor at Liveright, told Grantland in 2014. "He bridges the gap between literary and commercial appeal. He shows it's OK to write a lot, and it's still literature."