Conroy was known for his emotional prose

Conroy had announced in a Feb 15 Facebook post that he had pancreatic cancer.
Conroy had announced in a Feb 15 Facebook post that he had pancreatic cancer.PHOTO: PAT CONROY/FACEBOOK

NEW YORK • Pat Conroy, who drew inspiration from his tortured family life and the scenic marshlands of coastal South Carolina for his novels, most notably The Great Santini, The Lords Of Discipline and The Prince Of Tides, died last Friday aged 70.

Conroy, who had announced last February that he had pancreatic cancer, died at his home in Beaufort, South Carolina, said a spokesman for Doubleday. "The water is wide and he has now passed over," said his wife, novelist Cassandra King.

As a child, Conroy was dominated by his father, a Marine Corps fighter pilot who beat his wife, drilled his seven children military-style to instil discipline and abused his sons, first and foremost Pat, his eldest.

His mother was a gauzy romantic who denied her impoverished background and read Gone With The Wind to Pat at bedtime, casting family members in the starring roles. She taught her children to lie about the physical punishment meted out by their father.

Conroy mined the people, places and trauma of his early life for his thinly fictionalised novels and memoirs that captivated readers with their emotional tone, lurid family stories and lush prose that often reached its most affecting, lyrical pitch when evoking the wetlands around Beaufort, South Carolina.

Those experiences supplied the material for The Great Santini (1976), a modest commercial success that gained wider fame when it was made into a film in 1979 with Robert Duvall playing Lieutenant Colonel Bull Meecham, a stand-in for Conroy's father, and Blythe Danner as his wife.

One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family. I could not have been born into a better one.


The Lords Of Discipline (1980), inspired by his years as a student at the Citadel, Charleston's storied military academy, also had modest commercial success amplified by translation to the screen in 1983. Conroy's The Water Is Wide (1972) was also made into the 1974 film Conrack, with Jon Voight.

But The Prince Of Tides (1986), a sprawling story an unemployed high school teacher who confronts his past when he travels to New York to help his suicidal sister, sold more than 350,000 copies in hardcover and spent nearly a year on the best-seller lists. After Barbra Strei- sand directed and played a starring role in the film version starring Nick Nolte, Conroy, who was born Donald Patrick Conroy, moved to the front ranks of popular American writers.

"I write a straight story line and I guess that's what they need," Conroy told Publishers Weekly in 1986. "The dialogue also seems to be serviceable in a Hollywood way. But most important, I do the thing that Southerners do naturally - I tell stories."

His first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by King; four daughters and five stepchildren.

"One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family," he said for a Vanity Fair profile in 1995. "I could not have been born into a better one... I don't have to look very far for melodrama. It's all there."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline 'Conroy was known for his emotional prose'. Print Edition | Subscribe