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Michael Herr, author, screenwriter dies

Associated Press Associated Press 25/06/2016

Michael Herr, the author and Oscar-nominated screenplay writer who viscerally documented the ravages of the Vietnam War through his classic non-fiction novel Dispatches and through such films as Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, has died after a long illness.

He was 76.

His death on Thursday in an upstate New York hospital was confirmed by publisher Alfred A. Knopf, which released Dispatches in 1977, two years after the US left Vietnam.

A native of Syracuse, New York, Herr was part of the New Journalism wave that included Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer and advocated applying literary style and techniques to traditional reporting.

Dispatches is often ranked with Tim O'Brien's novel The Things They Carried, Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie and Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History as essential reading about the war.

"If you think you don't want to read any more about Vietnam, you are wrong," critic John Leonard of The New York Times wrote when Dispatches came out.

"Dispatches is beyond politics, beyond rhetoric, beyond 'pacification' and body counts and the 'psychotic vaudeville' of Saigon press briefings. Its materials are fear and death, hallucination and the burning of souls. It is as if Dante had gone to hell with a cassette recording of Jimi Hendrix and a pocketful of pills: our first rock-and-roll war, stoned murder."

Herr spent much of his 20s travelling and working for magazines before convincing Esquire magazine editor Harold Hayes, in 1967, to let him travel to Vietnam and write a monthly column.

He ended up staying more than a year, producing few columns at the time, but gathering the material for what became Dispatches.

"I keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by 17 years of war movies before coming to Vietnam and getting wiped out for good," he wrote in a chapter prefaced with lyrics from a Bob Dylan song.

Although he loved writing and storytelling, Herr only published a handful of books.

He struggled with depression before Dispatches and found the fame from his acclaimed Vietnam work disorienting.

He moved to London and for years travelled little and gave few interviews.

"The reception (for Dispatches) couldn't have been better, frankly - it couldn't have been more wonderful," he told The Los Angeles Times in 1990.

"It totally changed my life. But it also blew my cover."

Admirers of Dispatches included some prominent filmmakers, and Herr began a career in movies.

He helped write the voiceover narration for Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.

Herr is survived by his wife Valerie; daughters Catherine and Claudia; and siblings Steven Herr and Judy Bleyer.

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