Clifford Irving, Howard Hughes Prankster, Dies at 87

Clifford Irving, the man who schemed to publish a fake autobiography of billionaire Howard Hughes in the 1970s, has died after being admitted to hospice care. He was 87.

Irving's wife, Julie Irving, confirmed that he died Tuesday at a hospice near his Sarasota, Florida home, The New York Times reports. She said he had been admitted there after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about a week earlier.

Irving concocted the idea for “The Autobiography of Howard Hughes” after reading “The Case of the Invisible Billionaire,” an article about him published in the December 1970 issue of Newsweek.

A novelist of little accomplishment in 1971, Irving conned McGraw-Hill publishers into paying him a $765,000 advance to pen a book about the mysterious, reclusive Hughes. He pitched a supposedly authorized autobiography of the billionaire based on meetings and interviews that never took place.

As Hughes had famously removed himself from the spotlight, Irving was banking on the hope that he hated the public eye so much he would never come forward to denounce the false publication.

Irving served 17 months in federal prison for fraud after Hughes emerged for the first time since 1958 to condemn the work as a literary hoax. The bogus autobiography was unpublished until 1999, when it was printed as a private edition.

The scam "was exciting. It was a challenge. It became an adventure," Irving told the Los Angeles Times in 2007.

The International Herald Tribune called the fake autobiography "the most famous unpublished book of the 20th century." Time magazine dubbed Irving "Con Man of the Year" in a 1972 cover story.

His elaborate ruse became the subject of the 2006 movie The Hoax, starring Richard Gere.