Tom Clancy, whose complex, adrenaline-fueled military novels made him one of the world’s best-selling and best-known authors, died Tuesday in a hospital in Baltimore. He was 66.
Ivan Held, the president of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, his publisher, did not provide a cause of death.
Clancy’s books were successfully transformed into blockbuster Hollywood films, including “Patriot Games,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Clear and Present Danger.”
His next book, “Command Authority,” is planned for publication on Dec. 3.
Seventeen of his novels were No. 1 New York Times best sellers, including his most recent, “Threat Vector,” which was released in December 2012.
Sales of his books made him a millionaire. His family moved into a five-bedroom house in Calvert County, Md., and acquired an 80-acre farm on the Chesapeake Bay. He became a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles. He even bought a tank.
Clancy was an insurance salesman when he sold his first novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” to the Naval Institute Press for only $5,000.
That publisher had never released a novel before, but the editors were taken with Clancy’s manuscript. They were concerned, however, that there were too many technical descriptions, so they asked him to make cuts. Clancy made revisions and cut at least 100 pages.
The book took off when President Ronald Reagan, who had received a copy, called it “my kind of yarn” and said that he couldn’t put it down.
After the book’s publication in 1985, Clancy was praised for his mastery of technical details about Soviet submarines and weaponry. Even high-ranking members of the military took notice of the book’s apparent inside knowledge.
In an interview in 1986, Clancy said, “When I met Navy Secretary John Lehman last year, the first thing he asked me about the book was, ‘Who the hell cleared it?’”
David Shanks, a Penguin executive who worked with Clancy for decades, called him “a consummate author, creating the modern-day thriller, and one of the most visionary storytellers of our time.”
Born to a middle-class family in Baltimore on April 12, 1947, Clancy skipped over the usual children’s literature and became obsessed by naval history from a young age, reading journals and books whose intended audience was career military officers and engineering experts.
He absorbed details of submarine warfare, espionage, missile systems and covert plots between superpowers.
He attended Loyola College in Baltimore, where he majored in English, and graduated in 1969. While Clancy harbored ambitions to join the military, even joining the Army ROTC, he was told that he was too nearsighted to qualify.
Clancy began working at a small insurance agency in rural Maryland that was founded by his wife’s grandfather.
After “The Hunt for Red October” was published, Clancy’s fame was fairly instant. Frequently posing for photographs in darkened aviator sunglasses, jeans and holding a cigarette, Clancy spoke of the focus required to succeed.
“I tell them you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf,” he said. “You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.”
He followed “The Hunt for Red October” with “Red Storm Rising” in 1986, “Patriot Games” in 1987, “The Cardinal of the Kremlin” in 1988 and “Clear and Present Danger” in 1989.
The critical reception to his novels was gushing from the start. Reviewing “Red Storm Rising” in The New York Times in 1986, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote that the book “far surpassed” Clancy’s debut novel.
“Red Storm Rising” is a “superpower thriller,” he wrote, “the verbal equivalent of a high-tech video game.” (Clancy would eventually venture into video games, which were easily adapted from his novels.)
Other critics questioned the unwaveringly virtuous nature of many of Clancy’s heroes, particularly his protagonist Jack Ryan.
“All the Americans are paragons of courage, endurance and devotion to service and country,” Robert Lekachman wrote in The Times in 1986. “Their officers are uniformly competent and occasionally inspired. Men of all ranks are faithful husbands and devoted fathers.”
Clancy is survived by his wife, Alex; their daughter, Paige; and four children from a previous marriage: Michelle, Christine, Kathleen and Tom Clancy III.
Deborah Grosvenor, the editor who acquired Clancy’s first novel, said she initially had a hard time persuading her boss at the Naval Institute Press to read it, since Clancy was an unknown and the publisher had no experience with fiction.
“I said, ‘I think we have a potential best seller here, and if we don’t grab this thing, somebody else would,’” Grosvenor, who is now a literary agent, said in an interview. “But he had this innate storytelling ability, and his characters had this very witty dialogue. The gift of the Irish or whatever it was, the man could tell a story.”
Clancy was frequently accused of using classified information in his novels, a claim that amused him. While he spent time on military bases, visited the Pentagon and dined with high-level military officials, he insisted that he didn’t want to know any classified information.
“I hang my hat on getting as many things right as I can,” Clancy once said in an interview. “I’ve made up stuff that’s turned out to be real — that’s the spooky part.”