Robert Ludlum, best-selling author of spy tales, dies at 73

Tuesday, March 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) _ Robert Ludlum, the author whose spy adventure novels had unbelievable plot twists that kept millions of readers turning pages and critics sometimes rolling their eyes, has died. He was 73.

The cause of death is believed to be a heart attack, Matthew Shear, a spokesman for the author's publisher, St. Martin's Press, said Monday.

``It's a horrible loss for all of his fans and for his publisher,'' said Shear. ``Fortunately, he had been working on several books and to honor him we're going to continue to publish him.''

Readers can expect at least three more novels, Shear said.

While some critics have called his writing _ characterized by the liberal use of exclamation points, italics and rhetorical questions _ crude, others have acknowledged its popular appeal and inimitable style.

More than 210 million of the author's books are in print, according to, the official Web site of St. Martin's Press.

Ludlum was always somewhat astonished by his success, but had a theory to explain why his novels of international intrigue and conspiracy are so popular.

``When I came along writing novels in 1971, so much of the previous generation of novelists was very self-indulgent,'' he said in a 1986 interview with The Associated Press. ``It was always me, me, me. ... The craft of storytelling has kind of gone out the window for the sake of the writer himself. And I think I came along at a time when people were sick and tired of that. They wanted stories again. And I'm basically a storyteller.''

Government secrets and corruption were also recurring themes in his spy adventures, which were known for outrageous twists and turns.

A Washington Post critic once said: ``It's a lousy book. So I stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish it.''

In ``The Chancellor Manuscript,'' Ludlum fictionalized J. Edgar Hoover's death, unraveling an assassination plot that killed the head of the FBI.

One of his most popular series began with ``The Bourne Identity,'' which tells the tale of a spy suffering from amnesia who's followed by assassins. Jason Bourne repeatedly escaped death as he feared the worst of his past, leaving himself and readers guessing why he would be the target of killers.

Two others followed in the series: ``The Bourne Supremacy'' and ``The Bourne Ultimatum.''

Ludlum said anger about how the world is run fueled many of his stories.

``Generally it's in the area of outrage, as in the abuse of power, either elected or appointed,'' he said.

``We are supposed to be a republic, a democratic society, and so many things are done and manipulated without us, as the body politic, knowing about it,'' he said. ``And it bothers me. I'm not a statesman. I'm not a scholar. I just have a certain anger.''

Many believe Ludlum, who worked in the theater before taking up writing, was a former CIA agent because of his plot lines. The notion amused him.

``Anybody can if he decides to take the time to research it and talk with people,'' he said. ``And I was quite lucky that three of my roommates in college ended up in the intelligence community. So I had an opportunity to at least be able to talk with them.''

``But,'' he added, ``most of what I write about in terms of intelligence and espionage is really just an extension of imagination.''

Born in New York in 1927, Ludlum attended prep schools in Connecticut and graduated from Wesleyan University in 1951 as a fine arts major. He started his career in the theater, working as an actor and a producer, and with his wife, Mary Ryducha, founded a theater at a New Jersey shopping center _ the first of its kind in the nation.

But he was always a closet writer. At age 40, he decided to write professionally, getting his first book, ``The Scarlatti Inheritance,'' published in 1971.

The best-selling novel about a group that financed Adolf Hitler's Third Reich was followed by 20 novels which include ``The Matarese Circle,'' ``The Parsifal Mosaic,'' ``The Holcroft Covenant,'' ``The Aquitaine Progression,'' which have been published in 32 languages.

Two of his novels, ``The Matlock Paper'' and ``Trevayne,'' were written under the pen name Jonathan Ryder, and for ``The Rhineman Exchange'' he used the pen name Michael Shepherd.

As an actor, Ludlum performed minor roles on Broadway and appeared in television dramas in the 1950s. He opened the Playhouse-on-the-Mall in Paramus, N.J., in 1960, where he produced ``The Owl and the Pussycat,'' which featured then-unknown actor Alan Alda.