American Novelist Charles Portis, Author of True Grit, Dead at 86

Jeff Bridges as Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in 2010’s True Grit, for which he received an Oscar nomination. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Novelist Charles Portis, the author of such works as True Grit and Norwood, has died today at the age of 86 in Little Rock, Arkansas. According to the New York Times, the writer’s brother confirmed his death following a two-year hospice stay, which came on the heels of six years in an Alzheimer’s care facility.

While best known for his fiction, Portis began his writing career as a journalist, covering the civil right movement for the New York Herald Tribune and eventually becoming the paper’s London bureau chief. In 1964, the exceedingly private writer returned to his home state, move into an “Arkansas fishing shack” to pen books, and soon published Norwood in 1966. The novel follows a discharged Marine returned from the Vietnam war as he travels from Texas to New York and back again, meeting any sorts of all-American characters on the road. The book was adapted into a 1970 Jack Haley Jr. film starring Glen Campbell, Kim Darby and Joe Namath.

In 1968, Portis published True Grit, originally distributed as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post. In both the book’s 1969 film adaptation, which also starred Campbell and Darby, alongside John Wayne, and the 2010 Cohen brothers movie with Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin, protagonist Mattie Ross tells the tale of seeking help from Deputy U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn in getting revenge against the man who murdered her father. The film earned John Wayne his only Oscar.

True Grit was Portis’s most successful novel, and considered by many to be a classic of the American Western genre. The author would go on to pen 1979’s The Dog of the South, 1985’s Masters of Atlantis and 1991’s Gringos, in addition to occasionally writing articles for the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker, among other publications.

Charles Portis, Author of True Grit, Dead at 86