UPDATED WITH BARBRA STREISAND QUOTE Barbra Streisand, who directed and starred in The Prince of Tides, has released the following statement: “First, I fell in love with Pat Conroy’s book, The Prince of Tides, and then I fell in love with him. He was generous and kind, humble and loving…such a joy to work with. I was so honored that he entrusted his beautiful book to me. Pat’s natural language was poetry…he wrote sentences that are like an incantation. He observed every nuance of human behavior and dug deep down to the truth…presenting it in all its glorious and stubborn complexity. I am so sad today. I lost a dear friend, and the world has lost a great writer.”
Pat Conroy, whose novels of family dysfunction were turned into the Oscar-nominated films Conrack, The Great Santini and Prince of Tides, has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 70. According to his publisher Doubleday, Conroy died today at home in Beaufort, South Carolina with his family present.
Conroy was one of the great writers of the South, and along with tales of existential turmoil that plagued his protagonists, his descriptions of places like the marshes of South Carolina were so vivid that you could practically smell the air. Hollywood loved Conroy’s fiction, though it has proved unable so far to do cinematic justice to his sprawling Beach Music. That book sold for $5 million years ago to Paramount Pictures, where producer Alan Ladd Jr tried for years to get it made. Much like Stephen King’s The Stand, it has been very difficult to compress all the themes–the Holocaust, ’60s radicalism–into a two hour film. One hopes someone will figure it out eventually.
A leading figure in Southern Literature, Conroy was born to a military family in Atlanta in 1945, his family moving constantly throughout his youth but ultimately settling in South Carolina during Conroy’s high school years. The Palmetto State subsequently loomed large in his life. Conroy was a graduate of The Citadel, taught English in Beaufort for a number of years and lived most of his adult life there. Those locales figured prominently in his stories.
Conroy’s novels were known for their deeply personal plots and details, depicting ruinous relationships and painful experiences drawn unembarrassed from his own upbringing. They included examinations of the difficulties of growing up in a military family, his ambivalent feelings toward military culture, his relationship with his family and his abusive father. In 1972 his first novel, The Water Is Wide, recounted his experiences as a teacher and was adapted for the film Conrack, starring Jon Voight, in 1974. That was followed by The Great Santini, made into the film starring Robert Duvall in 1979 that went on to earn Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Duvall) and Best Supporting Actor (Michael O’Keefe).
Conroy’s other best-known work is The Prince Of Tides, his 1986 story about a South Carolina teacher who visits his sister in New York after her suicide attempt. They both come to terms with their past. It was adapted into the 1991 film starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand that was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and for Conroy as co-author of the screenplay with Becky Johnston.
Funeral arrangements are pending.