Larry McMurtry, ‘Lonesome Dove’ Author and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ Screenwriter, Dies at 84

Beloved author of the American West won an Oscar in 2006 for “Brokeback Mountain” adaptation

Larry McMurtry
Photo: Getty Images

Larry McMurtry, the prolific novelist of “Lonesome Dove” and screenwriter of “Brokeback Mountain,” “Terms of Endearment” and “The Last Picture Show,” has died. He was 84.

McMurtry died on Thursday evening of heart failure, his publicist told TheWrap via statement. He was surrounded by his wife, Norma Faye, longtime writing partner Diana Ossana and other family members when he passed.

McMurtry wrote over 30 novels in a career that spanned five decades. He was renowned for his ability to remove the romanticism from the image of the American West and highlight the reality of modern-day Texas’ small towns. He was first nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1972 for “The Last Picture Show” and won in 2006 for “Brokeback Mountain,” the screenplay he co-wrote with his longtime collaborator Ossana based on the short story by Annie Proulx.

He most recently collaborated with Ossana on “Joe Bell” starring Mark Wahlberg, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.

McMurtry won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1985 novel “Lonesome Dove,” which told the story of two retired Texas Rangers in the waning period of the Old West who drive a cattle herd to Montana as they grapple with age, death and faded glory. The sweeping, 843-page novel became one of McMurtry’s most acclaimed and commercially successful works, and the subsequent TV miniseries starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for 18 Emmys. On the whole, adaptations of his books have been nominated for 34 Oscars and have won 13.

Born in Texas as the son of a rancher, McMurtry’s first three novels drew from his upbringing and were a trilogy of stories set in the small town of Thalia. His first book, “Horseman, Pass By,” follows life on a cattle ranch in post-WWII Texas. It was adapted into a feature film, “Hud,” starring Paul Newman. The other two books in the trilogy, “Leaving Cheyenne” in 1963 and “The Last Picture Show” in 1966, would also both be adapted into feature films: Sidney Lumet’s “Loving Molly” in 1974 and Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” from 1971.

Other McMurtry books adapted into feature films include the “Last Picture Show” follow-up “Texasville,” the Best Picture-winner “Terms of Endearment” and “The Evening Star.” His books “Streets of Laredo” and “Dead Man’s Walk” became TV miniseries.

McMurtry also wrote a plethora of non-fiction, and he famously owned a used bookstore called Booked Up in Archer City, Texas, which at one point contained over 400,000 books spread out across six buildings. That’s compared to his own personal library, which the New York Times said contains 30,000 books between three houses.

Larry McMurtry was also the recipient of the National Humanities Medal in 2014.

For the record: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled McMurtry’s name.

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