Celebrities, politicians saddened by author Harper Lee's death

George W. Bush (right) accompanies Harper Lee (centre) at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in 2007.
George W. Bush (right) accompanies Harper Lee (centre) at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in 2007.PHOTO: EPA

(REUTERS) - US political and cultural figures mourned the death of author Harper Lee on Friday, crediting her with helping to promote tolerance and quoting her with admiration in social media and formal statements.

Lee, whose 1960 book To Kill A Mockingbird about racism and injustice in the US South is a classic of American literature, died on Friday at age 89 in her home town of Monroeville, Alabama.

"Harper Lee was ahead of her time, and her masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird prodded America to catch up with her," former President George W. Bush, whose wife Laura Bush is a librarian, said in a statement.

Bush, who awarded Lee a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, said she had been a voice for tolerance.


Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, and Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Lee's home state of Alabama, both praised the Pulitzer Prize winning Lee as a great author.

"Today, I join Alabamians and all Americans in mourning the passing of Harper Lee," Shelby said in a statement.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said that "it is because of Harper Lee that the world knows about her special hometown of Monroeville."

The governor also noted in his statement the celebration in Alabama after the publication last year of Lee's second novel, Go Set A Watchman 55 years after the first.

Admirers of Lee took to Twitter to post quotes from the author, with novelist Erica Jong and Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook joining the chorus.

"Rest in peace, Harper Lee. 'The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience,'" Cook wrote.

And Hollywood celebrities also expressed shock and sadness at Lee's death.

"Oh no. The great Harper Lee has passed away," actress Debra Messing said on Twitter. "She changed the world with To Kill A Mockingbird."

Actor Josh Gad tweeted that To Kill A Mockingbird was the first book he remembered reading cover-to-cover.

"It propelled me toward my love for lit," he said.