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Larry McMurtry, 'Lonesome Dove' author and 'Brokeback Mountain' screenwriter, dies at 84

A prolific writer, his work was mostly set in the American West.
Image: Larry McMurtry
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry poses at his bookstore in Archer City, Texas, on April 30, 2014.LM Otero / AP file

Larry McMurtry, a prolific writer who wrote mostly about the American West and who won a Pulitzer Prize for the sweeping novel "Lonesome Dove," died Thursday, according to a family spokesperson.

He was 84.

Amanda Lundberg confirmed the writer's death to NBC News on Friday. McMurtry died of heart failure at his home in Texas surrounded by his loved ones.

Over half a century, McMurtry wrote almost 50 books, including novels, screenplays, essay collections and memoirs that were predominantly set in the West. Several of his early works became feature films, including Oscar winners "The Last Picture Show" and "Terms of Endearment."

Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, McMurtry drew heavy inspiration for his novels from his time growing up on a ranch.

He was 25 when he wrote his first novel, “Horseman, Pass by,” which examined the changing values in the West after World War II. The book inspired the film “Hud” starring Paul Newman two years later.

His epic 1985 novel, "Lonesome Dove," which focused on a cattle drive from Texas to the Great Plains, was later adapted into a popular television miniseries that starred actors Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover and Diane Lane.

The four-part television series earned many accolades, including 18 Emmy nominations and seven wins.

In a 2014 interview with The Associated Press, McMurtry said the novel was "an effort to kind of demythologize the myth of the Old West." But, he said, “they’re going to twist it into something romantic no matter what you do.”

Later in life, McMurtry and his longtime collaborator Diana Ossana won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for the 2005 movie, "Brokeback Mountain," which was based on a short story by Annie Proulx.

His other works included the novel "Leaving Cheyenne" in 1963; the novel "Texasville" in 1987, a sequel to "The Last Picture Show" and a 1990 film; and the novel "The Evening Star" in 1992, a sequel to "Terms of Endearment" and a 1996 film.

He graduated from North Texas State College, now known as the University of North Texas in Denton, and attended Rice University in Houston for his master's degree.

Along with his writing career, McMurtry was also a bookseller who owned locations in Washington, D.C., Houston, Dallas and Tucson, Arizona. His last remaining store, Booked Up, in Archer City, Texas, is now one of America's largest, according to the store's website.

In his 2001 book of essays, "Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen," McMurtry once said that there was a parallel between his writing, antiquarian book trade and ranching experience.

"Because of when and where I grew up, on the Great Plains just as the herding tradition was beginning to lose its vitality, I have been interested all my life in vanishing breeds," he wrote.

McMurtry is survived by many family members and friends, including his son, James, his grandson, Curtis, and his wife, Norma Faye McMurtry.