Denis Johnson, whose addiction shaped his writings, is dead

WASHINGTON (AFP) - American writer and playwright Denis Johnson, who drew on his struggles with drugs and alcohol to produce award-winning poetry and short-story collections, has died at his home in California.

Johnson was 67, and the cause of his death on Wednesday (May 24) was listed as liver cancer, according to US news reports.

Not the most widely known of American writers, he was nevertheless the "spiritual heir to William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski (and) Dylan Thomas - and an inspiration to younger writers like Dave Eggers, Junot Diaz and George Saunders," New York magazine wrote in 2010.

He was probably best-known for Jesus' Son, a collection of short stories about addicts in rural America. Its sometimes chaotic style, with tortured stories of drug use, violence and petty crime, was meant to reflect the mental state of its troubled narrator.

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Critics called it a masterpiece of the surreal - some likened it to Burroughs' Naked Lunch - and it was made into a 1999 film of the same name, starring Billy Crudup, and with Johnson in a cameo role.

In 2007, he won a National Book Award for Tree Of Smoke, a novel about a former Vietnam War hero and CIA agent in South-east Asia. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, as was his Train Dreams four years later.

The son of a State Department liaison, Johnson was born in Munich and lived in Asia before moving to the US West. Much of his 20s, he once said, was spent in a drug-induced haze.

He once listed three rules for young writers: "Write naked. That means to write what you would never say. Write in blood. As if ink is so precious you can't waste it.

"(And) write in exile, as if you are never going to get home again, and you have to call back every detail."