Harold Robbins, whose novels about glamorous and scandalous people, including “The Carpetbaggers,” “Where Love Has Gone,” “The Betsy” and “The Lonely Lady,” proved frequent source material for Hollywood films and TV works, died Tuesday at the age of 81.

He died of respiratory heart failure in Desert Hospital in Palm Springs.

The author’s books sold more than 750 million copies in a career that spanned a half-century. His 23 novels were translated into 32 languages.

Robbins was an exec at Universal Pictures when he wrote his first book, “Never Love a Stranger,” to win a $100 bet with a colleague. It became a bestseller and was filmed in 1958 starring John Drew Barrymore, with Steve McQueen in a supporting role.

“Stranger” was followed by “A Stone for Danny Fisher,” then by 21 other novels, most of which were made into films.

The books featured a steamy combination of love, sex and double-dealings among the jet set. They were frequently inspired by the lives of real people. “All my characters are real,” he once said. “They are written as fiction to protect the guilty.”

In 1961, he wrote one of his most popular books, “The Carpetbaggers,” about an aviation pioneer and tycoon who was a thinly disguised version of Howard Hughes. It was filmed in 1963.

The next year, Hollywood lensed “Where Love Has Gone,” loosely based on the Lana Turner-Johnny Stompanato case.

Turner evidently held no grudges, as she starred in “Harold Robbins’ ‘The Survivors,’ ” a 1969 TV series that ran for one season on ABC. The series also starred Kevin McCarthy, Jan-Michael Vincent, Ralph Bellamy and George Hamilton.

Robbins was born Frank Kane on May 21, 1916 in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. He left home and school at age 15 to work in odd jobs; by age 20, he was a millionaire through brokering commodities but was bankrupt within three years.

In 1940, he became a shipping clerk for Universal in New York and was promoted to a top exec by 1946.

Robbins died with his wife, Jan, at his bedside. He also is survived by two daughters .

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