'Lonesome Dove' Author Larry McMurtry Dies At 84

Larry McMurtry, the Texas rancher’s son who won a Pulitzer Prize as the author of “Lonesome Dove,” died March 25. He was 84.

A prolific writer, McMurtry’s career spanned six decades, writing more than 30 novels, scripts for nearly as many movies and television series, three memoirs, countless book reviews and essays, and biographies of Western characters including Crazy Horse, George Custer and Buffalo Bill.

Born in Archer City, Tex., in 1936, McMurtry said the city was the model for the town of Thalia which is a setting for much of his fiction. He gained early success with “Horsemen Pass By,” in 1961, later adapted for film as “Hud,” starring Paul Newman; and “The Last Picture Show,” also adapted for film staring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepard and Ben Johnson, a rancher’s son from Foraker, OK. Both movies earned multiple academy award nominations.

McMurtry also wrote “Terms of Endearment” which won five Academy Awards in 1975 including Best Picture, and Oscars for Jack Nicholson and Shirley McClain. In 2006, McMurtry won an Academy Award with Diana Ossana for the screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain." 

But it was “Lonesome Dove” that became McMurtry’s best known work. The Washington Post called it an “epic novel about cowboys and cattle drives, grizzled Texas Rangers, frontier prostitutes, dexterous gamblers, odoriferous buffalo hunters and other roisterous denizens of the American West.”

“Some claim the three essential books in Texas history are the Bible, the Warren Commission report and Larry McMurtry’s ‘Lonesome Dove,’ ” historian Douglas Brinkley wrote in a 2017 New York Times essay.

McMurtry said “Lonesome Dove’s” main characters, Gus and Call, were not modeled after historical characters, but there are similarities with the real-life Texas pioneers Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, who established the Goodnight-Loving trail. For instance, upon Loving's death, Goodnight brought him home to be buried in Texas, just as Call does for Augustus.

“Lonesome Dove” was broadcast as a miniseries by CBS in 1989, with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in starring roles. An estimated 26 million homes watched the miniseries at a time when the western genre was considered dead. At the 1989 Emmy Awards, the miniseries had 18 nominations and seven wins. Lonesome Dove also won two Golden Globes, for Best Miniseries and Best Actor in a Miniseries (Robert Duvall).

Writing for the National Review, Kyle Smith said of McMurtry, “Taken as a whole, McMurtry’s work constitutes one of the greatest achievements of any American novelist — rich, vivid, soulful, as disarmingly beautiful as the sere landscape and always narratively potent. McMurtry’s novels keep moving and developing as restlessly as Texas itself.”  



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