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Obituary: Elmore Leonard

Obituary by Jack Foley

MASTERFUL US crime writer Elmore Leonard has died at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke.

A statement released via his official website said that he passed away on Tuesday morning (August 20, 2013) “surrounded by his loving family”.

A prolific writer, Leonard had penned 45 novels during his life and was working on the 46th at the time of his death. Several of his works have been turned into films, including modern classics Out of Sight (starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) and Get Shorty (with John Travolta and Gene Hackman).

Hombre, 3.10 To Yuma and Rum Punch were among other titles to have been turned into film, the latter by Quentin Tarantino under the title Jackie Brown.

While one of his more heroic characters, US Marshal Raylan Givens, inspired the TV series Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant (which has only recently concluded its fourth season).

His 1978 novel The Switch was filmed this year as Life of Crime.

Born in New Orleans on October 11, 1925, Leonard spent his early years moving around a lot as his father worked as a site locator for General Motors. However, the family eventually settled in Detroit in 1934, which was where he subsequently spent the rest of his life.

During the ’30s, he became influenced by two major events: the crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde and the World Series winning exploits of the Detroit Tigers.

After graduating from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 1943 he immediately joined the Navy and served with the Seabees for three years in the South Pacific. But upon returning, he enrolled at the University of Detroit in 1946 and decided to pursue writing more seriously.

He entered his work in short story contests and sent it off to magazines. He graduated in 1950 with a degree in English and philosophy and, a year before he graduated, landed a job as a copywriter with Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency, a position he kept for several years.

He published his first short story, Argosy, in 1951 and continued to pen short stories, usually Western-based, throughout the ’50s and ’60s, publishing his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, in 1953.

Two of his novels were turned into movies, including 3:10 To Yuma.

He later branched into the mystery and crime dramas and won many accolades throughout a long and distinguished career, including the F Scott Fitzgerald award in 2008 and the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

He received a further lifetime achievement prize last year, which was presented at America’s National Book Awards.

Leonard also advised other people on how to write, publishing a best-selling guide in 2001, entitled 10 Rules of Writing, in which he advised people to keep their exclamation points under control and “never open a book with weather”.

In 2004, he revealed a little more about his own process, stating: “I always start with the characters. I get to page 300 and I start thinking about the ending.”

Leonard suffered a stroke earlier this month in Detroit and had been in hospital. He died at his home in the city’s Bloomfield Village suburb.

He is survived by five children, all from his first marriage, as well as 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He and his third wife Christine divorced last year.