Pat Conroy, who wrote bestselling novels about life in the South like The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, died Friday evening. Conroy had announced earlier last month that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. According to his publisher, Conroy was surrounded by his loved ones in Beaufort, South Carolina, when he died. He was 70.
Much of Conroy’s work drew on his personal experience, specifically his troubled childhood and abusive relationship with his father, Donald Conroy, a marine aviator and military hero. Pat Conroy’s 1976 novel The Great Santini centered on a fictionalized version of Donald. It was made into a 1979 film starring Robert Duvall and Blythe Danner. Conroy had even greater popular success with 1986’s The Prince of Tides, the story of a South Carolina man who travels to New York to help his suicidal sister and falls in love with her psychiatrist. The book, already a hit, became a pop culture fixture when it was made into a 1991 film starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte, which was directed by Streisand. Conroy worked on the screenplay and earned one of the film’s seven Oscar nominations.
While Conroy’s novels were often criticized for their purple prose, his grasp on a certain painful kind of family relationship, and on a specific vision of live in South Carolina, won him a devoted readership. “If a reader has experienced a Conroy novel before, he knows the book will be flawed, he knows the book is 500-plus pages, and he knows the characters are, in many ways, the same ones he knew in the last Conroy novel,” reads an entry on Conroy in Contemporary Novelists. “But in many ways, it’s like returning to old friends and familiar places, and the lyricism of the prose is more than most readers can resist.”