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Cormac McCarthy dies at 89

Cormac McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men,” has died. He was 89. His death by natural causes was confirmed by his son, John McCarthy, according to a statement from his publisher.

McCarthy was both revered and criticized for his brutally violent, morally ambiguous, often bleak novels in which men were pitted against primal forces, books that read like a sock to the jaw numbed by a slug of whiskey.

McCarthy was born Charles McCarthy Jr. on July 20, 1933, in Providence, Rhode Island, one of six children in an Irish Catholic family. When McCarthy was a child, his family relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, where his father worked as a lawyer. “We were considered rich because all the people around us were living in one- or two-room shacks,” McCarthy told The New York Times in a rare interview.

Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Passenger’: A genius stares down the Barrel of Mortality

It was the South where McCarthy drew much of his literary inspiration for his Southern gothic and neo-Western stories, following in the narrative literary tradition of William Faulkner. McCarthy is noted for his style, which employs deceivingly simple, declarative sentences, sparse punctuation, and dialogue free of quotation marks and often missing attribution.

In the early ’50s, McCarthy attended the University of Tennessee but dropped out to join the Air Force. Following his service, he returned to the university and published two short stories in the student literary magazine “The Phoenix” before dropping out for good.

He published his first novel, “The Orchard Keeper,” in 1965, which won the William Faulkner Foundation Award for a notable first novel. That and his next three books were set in Appalachian Tennessee and heavily stamped by his Southern upbringing.

His fifth book broke the mold. Perhaps no book better exemplifies McCarthy’s style and craft than “Blood Meridian,” a bloody anti-Western that follows a band of scalp hunters across 1800s Texas. “‘Blood Meridian’ comes at the reader like a slap in the face, an affront that asks us to endure a vision of the Old West full of charred human skulls, blood-soaked scalps, a tree hung with the bodies of dead infants,” reads a 1985 New York Times book review by Caryn James. “But while Cormac McCarthy’s fifth novel is hard to get through, it is harder to ignore.”

McCarthy first achieved popular acclaim in 1992 with “All the Pretty Horses,” a best-seller and winner of the National Book Award. In 2000, it was adapted into a film starring Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz, directed by Billy Bob Thornton.

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen brought McCarthy even more popular acclaim with their 2007 film adaptation of his novel “No Country for Old Men,” starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin. The film won four Academy Awards, including best picture, and even drew the reclusive McCarthy to the Oscars ceremony. In 2013, McCarthy’s first original feature-length screenplay became the film “The Counselor,” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz.

McCarthy is most widely known for his post-apocalyptic novel “The Road.” Published in 2006, “The Road” is a bleak and haunting fable about a father and young son journeying through a ravaged landscape eradicated of civilization and most life on Earth. In March 2007, Oprah Winfrey selected the title for her book club; his subsequent televised interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was the famously press-shy author’s first. Later that year, McCarthy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. A film adaptation was released in 2009, starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

“Where did this apocalyptic dream come from?” Winfrey asked McCarthy in their interview. McCarthy said the inspiration came from a trip he took to El Paso, Texas with his young son. While his son slept, McCarthy stood at the window and looked over the town in the dead of night. “Nothing was moving, but I could hear the trains going through, and that very lonesome sound,” McCarthy said. “I just had this image of what this town might look like in 50 or 100 years. I just had this image of these fires up on the hill and everything is laid waste, and I thought a lot about my little boy.”

It would be 16 years until McCarthy published again. He was 89 years old when he surprised readers with the one-two punch of linked novels “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris” in late 2022, a diptych of existential suffering. McCarthy focused his apocalyptic bent inward, on the human soul, peering deep into the broken hearts of a brother and sister cursed by their shared parentage, brilliance, and forbidden love for one another.

A ★★★½ (out of four) review for USA TODAY reads, “It’s impossible to read ‘The Passenger’ and ‘Stella Maris’ apart from the looming mortality of their author; this is the work of a man peering into the void of his soon-to-be nonexistence.”

McCarthy was married and divorced three times and fathered two sons, Cullen McCarthy and John Francis McCarthy – “The Road” is dedicated to the latter.

In other news – Celebs react to Treat Williams’s death

Celebrities across Hollywood are paying their respects to Treat Williams after he died Monday following a motorcycle accident. In the wake of the tragic news, tributes poured in — both to PEOPLE and on social media — from Williams’ friends and costars, including Gregory Smith, Sarah Drew, Melissa Gilbert, Wendell Pierce, and Kim Cattrall.

“This news is devastating,” Smith, who played Williams’ son on Everwood for four seasons from 2002-2006, told PEOPLE in a statement. “Treat was a wonderful man and a brilliant actor. Above all, he loved his family so much. I’m very grateful for the time I got to spend as part of his extended tv family. Read More

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