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Pat Conroy, The Great Santini author, dies at 70

Beloved author of The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides dies at his home in South Carolina. 

New York Times bestselling Author Pat Conroy died at his home in Beaufort, South Carolina Friday evening, surrounded by family and friends. The celebrated writer was 70 and battling pancreatic cancer, as well as other health issues like diabetes, liver problems and high blood pressure.

Conroy’s many important works include The Prince of Tides, a romantic novel about a psychiatrist who treats and falls in love with an emotionally scarred man, which was turned into a film directed by Barbra Streisand and starring Streisand and Nick Nolte. Conroy helped work on the screenplay and was nominated for an Oscar for his work. The Prince of Tides also racked up six more Oscar nominations that year, including Best Picture.

Conroy also found incredible success with his 1976 novel, The Great Santini, about a fighter pilot who can’t connect emotionally with his family. The book, which is often taught to high school students (and which, I feel compelled to add, left as lasting impression on me in sophomore year) was also turned into a film in 1979 starring Robert Duvall.

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It is well known that Conroy’s works were inspired by his own experiences growing up as a “military brat” with an abusive father, a military hero named David Conroy. He has been candid about his personal struggles with his health and depression, helping to create an atmosphere where it’s okay for people (and, yes, even men) to talk about mental health. In a 1986 interview, he admitted writing is his own personal form of therapy — but that he has also found it to be therapeutic for his readers: “The reason I write is to explain my life to myself,” he said. “I’ve also discovered that when I do, I’m explaining other people’s lives to them.”

Conroy, the eldest of seven siblings, confessed in a 1998 interview that he grew up hating his father. When The Great Santini was released, his family was reportedly furious with him — but his father became impressed with his literary accomplishment after Duvall was cast in the leading role three years later. The Great Santini also helped to mend ties between father and son. “It was the great surprise of my life, after the book came out, what an extraordinary man had raised me,” Conroy said.

Conroy wrote 11 books in total, which have sold millions of copies worldwide. Some of this other works include Beach Music, The Lords of Discipline, The Water is Wide and The Boo.

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Conroy announced his pancreatic cancer diagnosis on Facebook last month, vowing to fight the disease. Following his death, his wife, novelist Cassandra King Conroy, wrote: “The water is wide and he has now passed over.”

His longtime editor and publisher, Nan A. Talese, of Doubleday wrote: 

“Pat has been my beloved friend and author for 35 years, spanning his career from The Prince Of Tides to today. He will be cherished as one of America’s favorite and bestselling writers, and I will miss him terribly.”

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