Larry McMurtry, 'Brokeback Mountain' And 'The Last Picture Show' Writer, Dead At Age 84

Larry McMurtry, the Oscar-winning co-writer of Brokeback Mountain, died yesterday at the age of 84. A spokeswoman for her family did not provide a cause of death or information about where he died.

Despite his Oscar, McMurtry was better known as a novelist, and he leaves behind a legacy of incredible genre work, specifically in westerns, which included writing the brilliant novel Lonesome Dove, which was adapted into a television mini-series in 1989 and stands as one of my all-time favorite westerns.

McMurtry wrote more than 30 novels over the course of his five decade-plus career, and The New York Times reports that he wrote more than 30 screenplays as well. He and collaborator Diana Ossana won an Oscar for writing the script for Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (based on a short story by Annie Proulx), and McMurtry also adapted his own novel by writing the screenplay for Peter Bogdonavich's 1971 drama The Last Picture Show, a pull-no-punches exploration of small-town Texas life.

That unromantic quality was a staple of McMurtry's, who often presented harsh realities of western life in his writing. He was born in 1936 in Wichita Falls, Texas, and grew up as the son of a rancher, giving him a close-up look at the small-town life he would chronicle on the page. "Because of when and where I grew up, on the Great Plains just as the herding tradition was beginning to lose its vitality," he once said, "I have been interested all my life in vanishing breeds." That interest may be no better exemplified than in Lonesome Dove, his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1985 novel that is arguably his greatest achievement as a writer. Written as an anti-Western that purposefully clashed against the types of overly-romanticized and idealized representations of the American frontier that were popular at the time, the story involves two retired Texas Rangers who get involved in a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It doesn't shy away from the dangers of life in the 1870s, and gets into the existential crises of these two men who have lived their lives in one distinct era and who now find themselves staring down the barrel of a wholly new one. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones played the leads in the 1989 CBS miniseries, and both deliver what are probably among the top performances of their entire careers.

Films like Hud (starring Paul Newman) and the Best Picture-winning Terms of Endearment are based on McMurtry novels, and the man spent much of his life as an antiquarian bookseller and bookstore owner. He will be greatly missed.