Tom Clancy, best-selling author of espionage and military thrillers including The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games, has died at the age of 66.
Clancy was renowned for his attention to technological detail and based many of his intricate plots on a deep knowledge of covert operations gleaned through the close relationships he forged over more than three decades with senior figures in America’s armed forces. But the author, who died in hospital in Baltimore in the United States on Tuesday night after what his publishers said was “a brief illness”, insisted that he never gave away classified information or anything that would endanger national security.
“You just can’t do that,” he said in a 2003 interview. “I tell what is safe to tell but there are a lot of things I don’t.”
Several of Clancy’s 28 books, of which 17 topped the New York Times bestseller list, were turned into successful Hollywood movies, notably The Hunt for Red October in 1990. This starred Sir Sean Connery as a Soviet submarine captain seeking to defect to the US while deceiving his crew and superiors.
The 1984 novel, which sold more than five million copies worldwide, also introduced Clancy’s most famous character, Jack Ryan. Then a CIA analyst, he went on to become a two-term US president in later books.
Portrayed by Alec Baldwin in Red October, the Ryan character became the property of Harrison Ford in the blockbusters that followed, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.
Clancy’s final novel, a political thriller called Command Authority, will be published in December. It features Ryan and his son Jack jnr as its lead characters.
Ivan Held, the president of book publishers GP Putnam’s Sons, called Clancy a “beloved author, colleague, friend and
“It was an honour to know Tom Clancy and work on his fantastic books,” Mr Held said. “He was ahead of the news curve and sometimes frighteningly prescient. To publish a Tom Clancy book was a thrill every time. He will be missed by everyone at Putnam, and by his fans all over the world.”
Former US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld paid tribute on Twitter: “Detailed and suspenseful, Tom Clancy’s espionage and military science thrillers will stand among America’s captivating works.”
Clancy, born in Baltimore in April 1947, studied literature at Loyola College in his home town and worked as an insurance agent before writing The Hunt for Red October in 1984. His career took off after Ronald Reagan, then US president, praised the novel publicly, and all of his subsequent books became essential reading in military circles.
The author harvested his friendships with senior politicians, admirals, generals and other military and defence leaders for material. He specialised in plotlines from the Cold War and its aftermath. His later works dealt largely with international terrorism, particularly the activities of fictional groups operating in the Middle East and elsewhere after the September 2001 attacks on the US.
In the novel Debt of Honour, published seven years before al-Qaeda flew two commercial airliners into New York’s World Trade Centre, terrorists crashed a jet into Washington’s Capitol building.
Asked in 2003 if he thought his writings gave inspiration to “the bad guys”, Clancy replied: “I never got any fan mail from Osama bin Laden, and I don’t really know how many books I sold in Afghanistan.”
Clancy’s novels sold more than 50 million copies around the world, and he was also behind two successful spin-off series of books, Op-Centre and Net Force. In 1996 he founded a video gaming company, Red Storm Entertainment, which used the plots of his books for role-playing adventures.
He later sold the operation to industry giant Ubisoft for an undisclosed fee.
Clancy was also an enthusiastic baseball fan and a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles, a major league team.