NEW YORK — David Oliver Relin, a journalist and adventurer who achieved acclaim as coauthor of the bestseller ‘‘Three Cups of Tea’’ (2006) and then suffered emotionally and financially as basic facts in the book were called into question, died Nov. 15 in Multnomah County, Ore. He was 49.
His family said Mr. Relin suffered from depression and took his own life.
In the 1990s, Mr. Relin established himself as a journalist with an interest in telling humanitarian stories about people in need, in articles about child soldiers and about his travels in Vietnam. So it made sense when Viking books tapped him to write a book about Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber who had an inspiring story about building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Elizabeth Kaplan, the agent for the book, acknowledged that the relationship between the two men was difficult from the start. Mortenson, who was traveling to remote areas, could be hard to track down, and Mr. Relin spoke publicly about how Mortenson should not have been named a coauthor. Still, the book was a huge success, selling more than 4 million copies.
Some readers, however, found details of the heartwarming tale suspicious. In 2011, the CBS News program ‘‘60 Minutes’’ and the best-selling author Jon Krakauer, in an e-book called ‘‘Three Cups of Deceit,’’ questioned major points in the book. This included a crucial opening anecdote about Mortenson’s being rescued by the townspeople of Korphe, Pakistan, after stumbling down a mountain when he was dehydrated and exhausted. It was their care and concern, the book said, that inspired Mortenson to build schools.
The reports also said some of the schools that Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, said it had established either did not exist or were built by others. There were also charges that the institute had been mismanaging funds and that a substantial portion of the money it raised had been used to promote the book, not for schools. Mortenson acknowledged that some of the details in the book were wrong. Mr. Relin did not speak publicly about the charges, but he hired a lawyer to defend himself in a lawsuit that accused the authors and the publisher of defrauding readers. The suit was dismissed this year.
He leaves his mother, Marjorie Relin, his wife, Dawn; his stepfather, Cary Ratcliff; and his sisters, Rachel Relin and Jennifer Cherelin.