Elmore Leonard Passes Away at Age 87

Published 2 years ago by , Updated February 24th, 2014 at 12:15 pm,

elmore leonard obituary Elmore Leonard Passes Away at Age 87

Elmore Leonard, who was one of the iconic crime-fiction genre novelists and a premiere literary storyteller during the second half of the 20th century, has passed away at age 87. Leonard had been working on his forty-sixth novel, before he suffered a stroke last month (then-believed to be non-life threatening). The prolific author/screenwriter passed away due to complications from the stroke at his home in Detroit this morning (Tuesday, August 20th, 2013, at the time of writing this), but is survived by his five children – all from his first in a line of three different marriages, to the late Beverly Cline.

Hollywood has been adapting Leonard’s many novels and short stories into movies for decades, going back to the late 1950s. However, the writer’s literature – in particular his crime tales – enjoyed an uptick in popularity in the mid-1990s, after Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction helped to re-popularize the sort of elements found in Leonard’s work (sharp and poetic dialogue, multiple narrative threads centered around blue-collar characters, etc.). Indeed, from 1995-98, no fewer than eight Leonard stories made the jump to either the small or large screen, with films like Get Shorty, Last Stand at Saber River (made for TV), Out of Sight and Jackie Brown (which is Tarantino’s adaptation of the Leonard novel “Rum Punch”).

Over the past decade, Leonard’s novels The Big Bounce, Be Cool and Freak Deaky were adapted to the big screen, while the 3:10 to Yuma remake and FX’s acclaimed TV series Justified were based upon the author’s original western short stories (note: the source material for Justified is the short story “Fire in the Hole”). The Jackie Brown/Rum Punch prequel story Life of Crime – based on the Leonard novel “The Switch” – will hit the festival circuit later this year, featuring a cast that includes Mos Def, Isla Fisher and Tim Robbins, among other name actors and actresses.

Timothy Olyphant in Justified Ghosts Elmore Leonard Passes Away at Age 87

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens from the FX TV series ‘Justified’

Elmore Leonard was born as Elmore John Leonard Jr. in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 11th, 1925, some nine years before his family ended up settling down in Detroit, where Leonard would spend the vast majority of the remainder of his life. During the 1930s, Leonard developed his lifelong fascination with gangsters and sports, thanks to the real-life crimes and violence committed by people like Bonnie and Clyde – in addition to the Detroit Tigers baseball team riding on a hot streak, culminating with a World Series win in 1935.

After he graduated from high school, Leonard served in the Navy for three years during WWII, before he enrolled at the University of Detroit in 1946 with the intent of pursuing a career writing about his personal interests and obsessions for a living. Leonard received degrees in English and Philosophy in 1950, which lead to him taking a job as a copy writer for the Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency while he wrote on the side.

This led to his first professional writing credit (the short story “Trail of the Apache”), followed by his first published novel “The Bounty Hunters” in 1953. Over the next forty years, Leonard would pen several novels that ended up being turned into movies, including The Tall T, Hombre, Valdez is Coming and 52 Pick-Up; in addition, he was involved with scripting films like Joe Kidd, Mr. Majestyk, Stick and The Rosary Murders. Moreover, it was during that time frame that Hollywood released the first adaptations of his Big Bounce and 3:10 to Yuma source material, decades before the stories-turned films were given a 21st Century makeover.

310 to Yuma Elmore Leonard Passes Away at Age 87

Christian Bale in the ’3:10 to Yuma’ remake (released in 2007)

The storyteller – known as “the Dickens of Detroit” – famously summed up his rules for good writing (especially with respect to realistic dialogue) as “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” His artistic output was highly influential and was essential in paving the road for the numerous beloved movies and television shows – about flawed protagonists-turned criminals and working-class crooks with moral codes – that’ve been produced in recent memory (ranging from a good chunk of Tarantino’s filmography to critical darling cable TV series like Breaking Bad). Suffice it to say, his impact as an artist will be felt long after his passing.

The Screen Rant staff would like to express their sincere condolences to the friends and family of Elmore Leonard in this difficult time.

R.I.P. Elmore John Leonard Jr.: October 11th, 1925 – August 20th, 2013.

elmore leonard Elmore Leonard Passes Away at Age 87

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  1. Terribly sad news…
    My heart breaks for his family & friends.

  2. Great tribute, Sandy, and one Elmore himself would give high marks on writing.
    Leonard is one of those artists you think will always be around and eventhough
    he did live a long life when someone of his stature departs it still seems too soon.

    “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I never forgot that one. So simple and so true.
    Elmore wrote about this and other of his rules back on 2001 which can be found here:


    Elmore’s art will be the source of art yet to come and in that way he will remain with us.

  3. Was a great author and will be sorely missed. It’s a shame people don’t read as much as they used to.

  4. I have a great respect to this great Novelist, will indeed be missed. Hollywood needs to give him more credit for his work

  5. Another tremendous loss to the creative world. Some true legends have left us this year: Ray Harryhausen, Richard Matheson, now Elmore Leonard. If anything stems from these deaths, I can only hope it’s that more people will revisit their works and realize the scope of their influence.

    • So much light going dark this year.
      Their works now carry their own lament.

  6. He was my hero, I could not past up buying one of his books if i saw it at Barnes & Noble. I remember reading “Rum Punch, and “Get Shorty” while I was overseas in the Navy. His style of painting a picture of crime, criminals, and witty banter was catching as hell. God, I was just starting to read “The Hot Kid,” this week. My heart goes out to his family, this world has lost a great, talented writter.

  7. I am such a big fan of both him and his books. The way he writes may seem rigid but he just refused to to be cliche, especially in the language he used. I am very sad to see this and I was hoping after his stroke we’d still get to see the end of his last book.

    This is very sad, thoughts and best wishes to friends and family.

  8. R.I.P. to a great writer who was “dark & gritty” before it was fashionable. If he had of written a comic book in the last ten years there would be more responses……

  9. A great writer has left us, but Elmore Leonard’s work will be long remembered. I for one am very grateful for his creation of some of the most memorable characters ever, not the least of whom is my personal favorite Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. In addition to Mr. Leonard’s various works he was a huge contributor to the FX channel’s terrific “Justified,” featuring Givens and one of the most underrated, unrecognized shows on TV, and it’s already being rumored that it will be tough to continue the series now that he’s gone.