John le Carré, the famed British author of espionage novels including “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” died Saturday after battling pneumonia. The writer, who was born David Cornwell, was 89.
Le Carré’s longtime agent Jonny Geller broke the news in a statement on Sunday: “It is with great sadness that we must confirm that David Cornwell — John le Carré – passed away from pneumonia last Saturday night after a short battle with the illness. David is survived by his beloved wife of almost fifty years, Jane, and his sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon. We all grieve deeply his passing. Out thanks go to the wonderful NHS team at the Royal Cornwell Hospital in Truro for the care and compassion that he was shown throughout his stay. We know they share our sadness.”
Geller, who represented le Carré for nearly 15 years, called him “a mentor, an inspiration and most importantly, a friend.”
“John le Carré was an undisputed giant of English literature. He defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power in the decades that followed,” Geller said.
Born David John Moore Cornwell in Dorset, England, le Carré served in both the Secret Service and Secret Intelligence Service in the 1950s and ’60s, bringing his knowledge of the intelligence world into his many notable espionage novels (most of which were set during the Cold War), the greatest of which is the 1963 best-seller “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.”
Following that success, he went on to pen “The Looking Glass War,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Smiley’s People,” “The Little Drummer Girl,” “The Night Manager,” “The Tailor of Panama,” “The Constant Gardener,” “A Most Wanted Man” and “Our Kind of Traitor,” all of which were adapted for the big screen and small, sometimes more than once. He shared a screenwriting credit on John Boorman’s 2001 adaptation of “The Tailor of Panama” starring Pierce Brosnan.
Many of the novels feature George Smiley, an overweight and bespectacled intelligence officer that le Carré intended as a more realistic alternative to Ian Fleming’s flashy James Bond.
Gary Oldman, who earned an Oscar nomination playing Smiley in the 2011 film version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” paid tribute to the writer. “For me, John Le Carre’ was many things. He was of course a very great author, the true ‘owner’ of the serious, adult, complicated spy novel — he actually owned the genre. All who follow are in his debt,” the actor said in a statement. “His characters were drawn deftly and deeply, nuances too many to count, and for me, inhabiting George Smiley remains one of the highpoints of my life.
“I got to know David a little bit, over conversations, lunches, and his visit to the set,” he continued. “Amazingly, he was always at the other end of the phone if we had a question, or needed a line or to confirm if a character might say something specific. He always had immediate answers. He was generous with his creativity, and always a true gentleman. The true Spy Master of several generations has left us. But George Smiley and the others live on. Thank you, David.”
Le Carré became more politically outspoken in later years. In January 2003, the British daily newspaper The Times printed a le Carré op-ed titled “The United States Has Gone Mad,” which heavily criticized President George W. Bush’s buildup to the Iraq War two months later. He called President Bush’s actions “worse than McCarthyism, worse that the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.” He added that it was “beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams.”
He remained political in the years that followed, supporting European integration and condemning Brexit.
Among his many honors, le Carré was awarded an Honorary Degree from the University of Bath, an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern and the Degree of Doctor of Letters, by the University of Oxford.