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'Legends of the Fall' Author Jim Harrison Dead at 78

Jim Harrison, the fiction writer, poet, outdoorsman and reveler who wrote with gruff affection for the country's landscape and rural life and enjoyed mainstream success in middle age with his historical saga "Legends of the Fall," has died at age 78.

Deb Seager, a spokeswoman for Grove Atlantic, Harrison's publisher, told The Associated Press that Harrison died Saturday at his home in Patagonia, Arizona.

Seager didn't know the cause of death. Harrison's wife of more than 50 years, Linda King Harrison, died last fall.

IMAGE: Jim Harrison
Author Jim Harrison in an undated photo. State Library of Michigan

The versatile and prolific author completed more than 30 books, most recently the novella collection "The Ancient Minstrel," and was admired worldwide.

Sometimes likened to Ernest Hemingway for the range and kinds of his interests, he was a hunter and fisherman who savored his time in a cabin near his Michigan hometown, a drinker and Hollywood scriptwriter who was close friends with Jack Nicholson and came to know Sean Connery, Orson Welles and Warren Beatty among others.

He was a sports writer and a man of extraordinary appetite who once polished off a 37-course lunch, a traveler and teller of tales, most famously "Legends of the Fall."

"His voice came from the American heartland and his deep and abiding love of the American landscape runs through his extraordinary body of work," Grove Atlantic publisher and CEO Morgan Entrekin said in statement Sunday.

Published in 1979, "Legends of the Fall" was a collection of three novellas that featured the title story about Montana rancher Col. William Ludlow and his three sons of sharply contrasting personalities and values, the narrative extending from before World War I to the mid-20th century, from San Francisco to Singapore.

The book was a best-seller, and Harrison worked on the script for an Oscar-nominated 1994 film of the same name starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn.

Harrison's screenplay credits also included "Revenge," starring Kevin Costner, and the Nicholson film "Wolf." But he would liken the unpredictable and nerve wracking process to being trapped in a "shuddering elevator" and reminded himself of his marginal status by inscribing a putdown by a Hollywood executive, "You're just a writer," on a piece of paper and taping it above his desk.

Harrison had displayed numerous talents before the general public caught on to him. He was an accomplished poet and sports journalist and a fiction writer with a strong feel for open spaces and the pull and consequences of history. He set many works in the rural north of his native Michigan, including the detective novels "The Great Leader" and "The Big Seven," and used Nebraska as the backdrop for one of his most acclaimed works, "Dalva."