Best-selling novelist Tom Clancy, whose spy thrillers made him one of the most popular writers of the last three decades, died Tuesday in a Baltimore hospital after a short illness. He was 66.
On Wednesday, Penguin Group (USA) released news of his death, but declined to name the cause.
Clancy enjoyed wild success as a novelist, penning thrillers that orbit military espionage, political scandal, and terrorism often set during and after the Cold War. As a military technology buff, he crafted his plots with such accuracy that CNN noted he gained a “loyal following within the armed forces in the United States and abroad.”
His first novel, The Hunt For Red October, about the defection of a Soviet naval captain, came out in 1984 when Clancy was 33 years old, and launched him immediately into a successful career.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner told Clancy in an interview posted by Penguin Group that when he read the book, his eyes popped: “I was on active duty then, and I had access to a lot of secrets. … You knew things that people weren't supposed to know.”
Clancy often denied having special access to military secrets, but Horner called his accuracy and portrayal of U.S. military and intelligence operations “amazing.” Clancy responded with a smirk, saying finding his information was easy: “It’s all out in the open. I call it ‘connect the dots.’”
Seventeen of Clancy's novels made in to The New York Times bestseller list, and Hollywood turned six of them into well-known movies, including “The Hunt for Red October, (1990), starring Sean Connery as Captain Ramius, and Patriot Games, (1992), starring Harrison Ford.
Though Clancy was a Roman Catholic, his novels dealt with geopolitical struggles rather than religion. He was a hard-core conservative and Republican, and a staunch supporter of the U.S. military. A week after the 9/11 attacks, he indirectly blamed the political left for the devastation, telling Bill O’Reilly: “The CIA was gutted by people on the political left who don’t like intelligence operations … and as a result of that, as an indirect result of that, we lost 5,000 citizens last week.”
Clancy's support for the military was almost paternal. He told Horner: “There is no truer representation of our country than the people it sends into the field to fight for it. And the people who wear our uniform and carry our rifles into combat, they’re our kids, and our job is to support them, because they are protecting us.”