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'Bridges of Madison County' author Robert James Waller dies

Associated Press logo Associated Press 3/10/2017 By MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

Robert James Waller © BEI/REX/Shutterstock Robert James Waller NEW YORK (AP) — Robert James Waller, whose best-selling, bittersweet 1992 novel "The Bridges of Madison County" was turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and a Broadway musical, has died in Texas, according to his literary agency. He was 77.

Lucy Childs of Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency said Friday that Waller died either Thursday or early Friday. Childs did not know the cause but said the author had been ill.

In "Bridges," which Waller famously wrote in 11 days, the roving National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid spends four days romancing Francesca Johnson, a war bride from Italy married to a no-nonsense Iowa farmer.

Waller's novel reached No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list and stayed on it for over three years; the Eastwood-directed 1995 movie grossed $182 million worldwide. He wrote a sequel — "A Thousand County Roads — An Epilogue to The Bridges of Madison County." The Bridges Of Madison County - 1995 Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep © Amblin/Malpaso/REX/Shutterstock The Bridges Of Madison County - 1995 Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep

Many critics made fun of "Bridges," calling it sappy and cliche-ridden. "Waller depicts their mating dance in plodding detail, but he fails to develop them as believable characters," Eils Lotozo wrote in The New York Times in 1993. "Instead, we get a lot of quasi-mystical business about the shaman-like photographer who overwhelms the shy, bookish Francesca with 'his sheer emotional and physical power.'"

Readers, however, bought more than 12 million copies in 35 languages. "Bridges" turned the unknown writer into a multimillionaire and made Madison County, Iowa, an international tourist attraction.

"I really do have a small ego," Waller told The New York Times in 2002. "I am open to rational discussion. If you don't like the book and can say why, I am willing to listen. But the criticism turned to nastiness. ... I was stunned."

The novel prompted couples across the world to marry on Madison County's covered bridges. Around the town of Winterset, population 4,200, tourists arrived by the busloads, buying "Bridges" T-shirts, perfume and postcards. Thousands signed in at the Chamber of Commerce office, where they could use restrooms marked "Roberts" and "Francescas."

After the novel's success, Weller left Iowa, where he had grown up, and moved to a ranch in Alpine, Texas, 50 miles from the nearest town. He also divorced his wife of 36 years. His other books include "Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend," which unseated "Bridges" on the best-seller list, "Border Music" and "Puerto Vallarta Squeeze."

A musical was made of "The Bridges of Madison County" in 2014 starring Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale with a score by Jason Robert Brown, but it closed after just 137 performances on Broadway. A national tour starring Elizabeth Stanley kicked off in 2015. In Memoriam 2017: Stars We've Lost This Year

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