Tom Clancy, a writer who was as famed for what Stephen King called his “monster advances” as his wildly popular thrillers, including The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games, has died in hospital in Baltimore at the age of 66.
The author of 17 New York Times bestsellers was launched on his career by former US president Ronald Reagan.
The Hunt for Red October, his first novel, had been bought for a lowly US$5,000 by the Naval Institute Press. When Reagan pronounced it “the perfect yarn” in 1984, Clancy, then a Maryland insurance agent, was propelled into a hugely successful writing career.
In 1996 he returned the compliment by dedicating his book Executive Orders to Reagan. A lifelong Republican, Clancy dedicated several of his other novels to conservative politicians.
Recalling the story in 2002, he told an interviewer: “President Reagan, despite all the nasty things people used to say about him, was actually a big reader, and he read the book during his tenure at the White House, and he liked it, and he talked it up and Time magazine found out and ... did an article about it, and I became a bestselling author.”
He added: “I mean, I would have done so anyway in all likelihood.”
Forbes magazine estimated his yearly earnings for 2007-2008 at US$35 million.
The Hunt for Red October introduced his most famous character, Jack Ryan, a CIA agent who becomes president. Ryan has been portrayed by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck respectively in films including Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears.
A new Jack Ryan film, Shadow One, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Pine, is planned for release later this year. Clancy described the heroic Ryan as a version of himself — “an improved version, because he never had to get his eyes fixed by an ophthalmologist and all that stuff that I’ve had to do.”
His early novels were marinated in the Cold War, but he also tackled terrorism and his 1994 novel Debt of Honor was eerily prescient: It features a scene in which a jingoistic Japanese industrialist, bent on bringing the US to its knees, crashes a Boeing 747 jet into the US Capitol dome, killing the president and most of Congress.
In 2003, Clancy said: “Osama bin Laden has never sent me any fan mail, and I haven’t really sold that many books in Afghanistan... If I could predict the future, I’d be down on Wall Street.”
Clancy was one of the pioneers of the notion of author as brand. Alongside the thrillers he wrote — including Command Authority, the 13th Jack Ryan novel, which is published in December — he also sold his intellectual property rights for an estimated US$100 million to a videogame company and had his name attached to a number of novel series written by other authors.