Landmark western authors most famous novel gave John Wayne an Oscar-winning role, and inspired the Coen brothers
Charles Portis, the reclusive author of the western True Grit, in which a 14-year-old girl sets out to avenge her fathers murder, has died at the age of 86.
Portiss brother Jonathan told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the writer died on Monday in a hospice in Little Rock, Arkansas. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease.
Stephen King said that Portis was a true American original, while the governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson said he will be remembered for generations to come. And we are proud of the way he showcased our beautiful state.
Born and educated in Arkansas, Portis served as a sergeant in the US Marine Corps during the Korean war before becoming a journalist, writing for papers including the New York Herald Tribune. He left journalism in 1964 to write full-time, publishing his first novel, Norwood, in 1966. About a Texan who sets out for New York, meeting his true love, the second shortest midget in show business and a chicken on the way, it was described by Entertainment Weekly as a glimpse of how a 20th-century Mark Twain might write.
True Grit followed in 1968, telling of how 14-year-old Mattie recruits deputy marshal Rooster Cogburn, a man she believes to have grit like her, to help find the man who shot her father. People do not give it credence that a 14-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her fathers blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day, it opens, with typical deadpan humour. A film version followed in 1969, starring John Wayne in an Academy Award-winning performance. A second version in 2010, starring Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, was directed by the Coen Brothers.
He had this great amount of success with True Grit. I think it didnt sit well with him, Jonathan Portis told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He didnt like to attract attention. He was comfortable around his friends, but shy around strangers. He preferred to go as an unknown person because he was a people watcher. He would hear snatches of conversations or see people who had a particular look and he would take note of that. Youd see them in his books.
Donna Tartt described True Grit as a masterpiece in a foreword to a recent edition of the novel, adding that no living southern writer captures the spoken idioms of the south as artfully as Portis does. When the book was first published, Roald Dahl declared it: The best novel to come my way for a very long time. What a writer!
Portis wrote three more novels: The Dog of the South, published in 1979, Masters of Atlantis (1985) and Gringos (1991). He went on writing short fiction, non-fiction and a play, and won multiple lifetime achievement awards over the last decade.