Elmore Leonard, the bestselling novelist whose works were adapted into numerous films, including “Get Shorty,” “Jackie Brown,” “Out of Sight” and “3:10 to Yuma,” and who also penned original screenplays or adapted his own novels, died Aug. 20 at age 87.
Every novel Elmore Leonard wrote from the mid-1980s on was a best-seller, and every fan of crime stories knew his name. George Clooney was an admirer. So were Quentin Tarantino, Aerosmith, Saul Bellow and Stephen King. The author’s penchant for colorful characters and vivid dialogue were a natural for the movies.
He died at his home in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township, where he did much of his writing, from complications of a stroke he suffered a few weeks ago, according to his researcher, Gregg Sutter.
Leonard also wrote the story “Fire in the Hole,” on which the FX series “Justified,” starring Timothy Olyphant, was based, and served as an executive producer on the show.
Leonard’s novel “Raylan,” focusing on the character that became the focus of TV’s “Justified,” was published in January 2012; in a reappraisal of the author on the occasion of this publication, U.K. newspaper the Guardian declared, “Leonard is regarded as the greatest American crime writer, surpassing even Raymond Chandler. But it is time to drop the qualification of genre.”
Leonard penned original screenplays for the 1972 Clint Eastwood starrer “Joe Kidd” and 1974 Charles Bronson actioner “Mr. Majestyk”; for the bigscreen, he also adapted his own novels “The Moonshine War,” “Stick,” “52 Pick-Up” and “Cat Chaser.”
The writer experienced something of a bigscreen surge during the 1990s beginning with the popular and critically admired Hollywood satire “Get Shorty” (1995), starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman and Rene Russo. Quentin Tarantino followed with an adaptation of Leonard’s “Rum Punch” as “Jackie Brown,” starring Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro, in 1997. The following year saw director Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” another popular and critical success that starred George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez; Scott Frank drew an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of Leonard’s novel; Frank told one interviewer, “The great thing about Elmore Leonard’s stories is that they are already very cinematic in that they have great dialogue and situations.”
Other films based on his novels but adapted by others include revisionist Western “Hombre,” starring Paul Newman; “Valdez Is Coming,” with Burt Lancaster; and “The Big Bounce,” made in 1969 and again in 2004. “The Tonto Woman,” based on his story, was Oscar nominated in the live-action short category in 2008.
Leonard’s novel “Out of Sight” served as the basis for the ABC series “Karen Sisco,” starring Carla Gugino (Lopez had played the character in the film version of “Out of Sight”); the author penned two episodes of the skein, centered a female U.S. marshal, in 2003 and 2004. His novel “Maximum Bob” served as the basis for the brief ABC series of the same name starring Beau Bridges, and he also penned an episode of that show in 1998.
Earlier he scripted the 1980 TV movie “High Noon Part II: The Return of Will Kane.” Leonard also penned NBC’s 1987 Western telepic “Desperado” and served as creator on a series of follow-up efforts. In addition, a number of Leonard’s novels were adapted by others into TV movies.
Leonard’s long association with Hollywood began in 1956, when his story “Moment of Vengeance” was adapted for an episode of CBS anthology series “Schlitz Playhouse.” The next year two other Leonard stories were adapted into what became classic Westerns: Budd Boetticher’s “The Tall T,” starring Randolph Scott, and “3:10 to Yuma,” starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin (the latter film was successfully remade in 2007).
Leonard was also an exec producer on two recent feature adaptations of his novels still to be released: “Freaky Deaky,” adapted and directed by Charles Matthau, and “Life of Crime,” based on novel “The Switch,” set to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.
Last fall, he became the first crime writer to receive an honorary National Book Award, a prize given in the past to Philip Roth, Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller.
Leonard was married three times. He is survived by five children.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)