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Historian William Manchester, biographer of Churchill, dies at 82

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Historian William Manchester, who brought a novelist's flair to his stirring biographies of such 20th century giants as Winston Churchill, Douglas MacArthur and John F. Kennedy, died of cancer Tuesday at 82.

Manchester wrote 18 books, including two novels, but was best known in recent years for his magisterial, multivolume biography of Churchill, ``The Last Lion.'' Two strokes prevented Manchester from completing the much-anticipated third volume, covering most of the World War II years.

Just last month, Paul Reid, a feature writer at The Palm Beach Post, was chosen to help finish the book.

``He wrote histories or biographies that just take you right there and illuminate, teach, enlighten and anger,'' Reid said.

Manchester died in his sleep at his home in Middletown, his daughter Laurie Manchester said.

``He would have wanted to be remembered as a writer first and foremost, and then as a historian,'' she said. ``Writing came to him easily, it was like breathing.''

Manchester emerged from a working-class childhood in industrial Massachusetts and battlefield experiences as a Marine Corps sergeant in World War II.

Manchester and JFK became friends in 1946 while both were recovering from war wounds. During the 1950s and the Camelot years, Manchester was a confidant and companion to Kennedy, and a frequent visitor to the family's compound in Hyannisport, Mass.

The friendship helped provide Manchester with material for his breakthrough book _ the 1962 ``Portrait of a President,'' the first of three books he wrote about Kennedy.

The shattering experience of the Kennedy assassination the following year led to ``The Death of a President,'' published in 1967.

Jacqueline Kennedy tried to block the book's publication, saying it revealed intimate family details. Manchester eventually agreed to drop certain passages. The book sold more than a million copies.

Explaining the Kennedy mystique in ``The Death of a President,'' Manchester wrote: ``The nub of the matter was that Kennedy had met the emotional needs of his people. His achievements had been genuine. His dreams and his oratory had electrified a country grown stale and listless and a world drifting helplessly toward Armageddon.''

In a 1999 New York Times interview, he said he thought so many people believed Kennedy was killed in a conspiracy because of ``that dreadful Oliver Stone movie'' _ ``JFK'' _ and because people felt someone as insignificant as Lee Harvey Oswald could not have done such a momentous thing.

``If you put the murder of the president of the United States at one end of the scale, and you put that waif Oswald on the other end, it just doesn't balance,'' he said. ``And you want to put something on Oswald's side to make it balance. A conspiracy would do that beautifully. Unfortunately, there is no evidence whatever of that.''

In 1983, 20 years after the assassination, he wrote ``One Brief Shining Moment,'' an affectionate retrospective of the Kennedy years.

After his 1968 ``Arms of Krupp'' _ a history of the German arms-maker _ and his history of the United States from 1933 to 1973, ``The Glory and the Dream,'' Manchester took on other major historical figures.

His 1978 biography of MacArthur, ``American Caesar,'' received a National Book Award nomination and became the basis for a movie.

The first volume of his anticipated three-book biography of Churchill, ``The Last Lion: Visions of Glory 1874-1932,'' was published in 1983. The sequel, ``The Last Lion: Alone 1932-1940,'' came out in 1988.

Despite mixed reviews, the Churchill books sold hundreds of thousands of copies. They were so beloved that when the U.S. Navy commissioned a guided-missile destroyer named after Churchill, it installed signed copies of Manchester's books in the ship's library.

The most personal of his works was an attempt to exorcise demons and recurring wartime nightmares _ ``Goodbye, Darkness,'' published in 1980. Manchester describes growing up in Attleboro, Mass., as the son of a wounded World War I Marine. The book relates Manchester's World War II experiences on Okinawa, where he was wounded twice, and his visits to other Pacific battlegrounds during the late 1970s.

In his concluding note to the book, Manchester wrote: ``This, then, was the life I knew, where death sought me, during which I was transformed from a cheeky youth to a troubled man who, for over 30 years, repressed what he could not bear to remember.''

After the war, he earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Massachusetts and a master's from the University of Missouri.

He was a reporter for the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City and for The (Baltimore) Sun, where he was a war correspondent. His first book, ``Disturber of the Peace,'' came out in 1951.

Manchester left daily journalism in 1955, the year he began his long association with Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He became managing editor of publications there, a job he held for 10 years. He recently was adjunct professor of history and writer-in-residence.

In explaining his decision to stop writing, an ailing Manchester told the Times in 2001 he could no longer approach his usual prodigious output.

``I can't put things together; I can't make the connections,'' he said.

His wife, Julia, died in 1998. He is survived by three children, three grandchildren and a brother.
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