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John le Carré Dies: Writer Behind Cold War Classics Like ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ Was 89

IndieWire logo IndieWire 12/13/2020 Ryan Lattanzio
a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera © Christian Charisius/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

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John le Carré, the prolific author behind spy classics like the George Smiley series, has died at the age of 89. The news was shared on Twitter by literary agency Curtis Brown. He passed away Saturday, December 12, after a short illness that wasn’t COVID-related. Le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, is survived by his four sons, their families, and his wife Jane.

“For six decades, John le Carré dominated the bestseller lists and review pages with his monumental body of work,” read a statement from the agency. “His dramatic launch onto the global scene began with the publication of his third novel in 1963, ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,’ and the public revelation of his secret life working with the British Intelligence Services. Devoting his life to writing, he went on to define the Cold War era with the help of his character, George Smiley, and through his complex plots and beautiful prose, beamed a harsh light at the injustices of our world.”

John le Carré’s books spawned countless film and TV adaptations, like 1965’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” starring Richard Burton, the 1979 “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” miniseries starring Alec Guinness as well as 2011 film starring Gary Oldman, 2005’s Oscar-winning “The Constant Gardener” starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, AMC’s acclaimed recent limited series “The Night Manager” and “The Little Drummer Girl,” “A Most Wanted Man” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and many more. He was nominated in 2016 for a Primetime Emmy Award as an executive producer on “The Night Manager.”

His last novel, titled “Agent Running in the Field,” was published in October 2019. Throughout his career, le Carré wrote 25 novels and one volume of memoir, “The Pigeon Tunnel” in 2016, and has sold more than 60 million copies of his works around the world.

“His like will never be seen again, and his loss will be felt by every book lover, everyone interested in the human condition,” Curtis Brown’s statement read. “We have lost a great figure of English literature, a man of great wit, kindness, humor and intelligence. I have lost a friend, a mentor and an inspiration.”

Gary Oldman also shared a statement. “For me, John le Carré was many things. He was of course a very great author, the true ‘owner’ of the serious, adult, complicated spy novel — he actually owned the genre. All who follow are in his debt. His characters were drawn deftly and deeply, nuances too many to count, and for me, inhabiting George Smiley remains one of the high points of my life. I got to know David a little bit, over conversations, lunches, and his visit to the set. Amazingly, he was always at the other end of the phone if we had a question, or needed a line or to confirm if a character might say something specific. He always had immediate answers. He was generous with his creativity, and always a true gentleman. The true Spy Master of several generations has left us. But George Smiley and the others live on. Thank you David.”

With much sadness, I must announce the passing of one the world’s great writers – John le Carré.https://t.co/hpPFA5nA6D pic.twitter.com/HbC3WZzQFF

— Jonny Geller (@JonnyGeller) December 13, 2020

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