Tom Clancy, 'king of the techno-thriller'

Tom Clancy, the prolific Baltimore-born author whose novels "The Hunt for Red October" and "Patriot Games" inspired blockbuster movies and action-packed video games, earning him the nickname "king of the techno-thriller," died Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital after a brief illness. He was 66.

"When he published 'The Hunt for Red October' he redefined and expanded the genre and as a consequence of that, a lot of people were able to publish such books who had previously been unable to do so," said Stephen C. Hunter, a Baltimore author and Pulitzer Prize-winning former film critic for The Washington Post. "He valued technical precision and on-target writing that became the form of the modern thriller."


Numerous edge-of-your-seat books, including many featuring hero Jack Ryan that were made into Hollywood hits, turned Mr. Clancy into one of the best-read authors of all time.

His literary output during a 28-year career made him a millionaire. He wrote 26 books — 17 of which made The New York Times' best-seller list — and it has been estimated that tens of millions of his books have been sold.


"People say I write techno-thrillers and Cold War novels. I say I write books," Mr. Clancy told The Baltimore Sun in 1991. "As long as there are bad guys around, I can write books. And last time I looked, there are still a few bad guys out there."

A new Jack Ryan book, "Command Authority," co-written with Mark Greaney is due out in December. And a new Jack Ryan movie, "Shadow One," will be released at Christmas.

"The Hunt for Red October" was released as a movie in 1990 with Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin. Harrison Ford later starred as Jack Ryan in "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger."

Mr. Clancy was a major financial player in Baltimore's sporting renaissance in the 1990s, when the Orioles moved to Camden Yards. He was the biggest minority investor in the group that Peter G. Angelos assembled to buy the Orioles for $173 million in 1993.

"While he achieved international acclaim as a celebrated author, Tom, a proud Baltimorean, was a devoted Marylander, a treasured friend, and a valued partner and adviser in the Orioles ownership group," Mr. Angelos said Wednesday.

"Although he was a world-renowned, best-selling author whose works became box office hits and video games, Tom remained rooted in Baltimore," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "A devoted resident until his final day, Tom is a Baltimore icon whose legacy will forever be remembered."

Mr. Clancy's lawyer, Thompson "Topper" Webb of the Baltimore law firm Miles & Stockbridge, confirmed his death Wednesday, but gave no cause.

Thomas Leo Clancy Jr., the son of a mail carrier and an eye surgeon and insurance agency manager, grew up in Baltimore's middle-class Northwood neighborhood.


"I was a little nerdy but a completely normal kid. Mom and Dad loved each other. It was like 'Leave it to Beaver,'" he told The Sun in 1992.

His education was Roman Catholic, beginning with St. Matthew's grade school. He went on to Loyola High in Towson, an all-boys school with an all-male faculty and a rigorous Jesuit curriculum. Students took four years of Latin, wore jackets and ties, and began each class with a prayer.

"He was kind of his own man. He was quiet and toward the shy side," Father Thomas McDonnell, a former Loyola faculty member who taught Mr. Clancy religion, Latin and history in his sophomore year, recalled in an interview with The Sun some years ago.

He described Mr. Clancy as a straight-A student from the standout class of 1965, but unremarkable as a leader or athlete.

"I knew he was in class, but if you had told me he would be where he is today I would have said, 'No way,'" Father McDonnell recalled.

While some of Mr. Clancy's classmates went on to spend the late 1960s on campuses rife with antiwar activism, he moved to Loyola University Maryland, where the ruling Jesuits had little tolerance for demonstrations.


"Loyola was a working-class college. You had to be rich to be radical," Mr. Clancy told The Sun. "I was more of a Peter, Paul and Mary kind of guy."

Mr. Clancy initially took ROTC classes but later withdrew because of severe myopia, which accounted for his wearing dark, aviator-style glasses that made him "look like a chipmunk," he once explained. Eye surgery in recent years eliminated the need for them.

His ROTC experience helped him absorb the details and nuances of modern warfare and spycraft, as he voraciously read books on the military and unclassified government documents, which would surface 15 years later when he wrote his first novel, "The Hunt for Red October," published in 1984.

He graduated in 1969 with an English degree and moved to Hartford, Conn., where he worked for an insurance company from 1969 to 1973. That year, he returned to Maryland and joined O.F. Bowen, his in-laws' insurance agency in the Calvert County community of Owings.

His insurance office had a number of military clients, which kept him around epaulets and brass buttons. He wrote an article in 1982 on the MX missile system for Proceedings, a publication of the Naval Institute in Annapolis.

His first publisher, Jim Barber, a retired Navy captain and retired executive director of the Naval Institute, once recalled Mr. Clancy as "a very bright guy who knows clearly what he thinks and doesn't hesitate to let you know what he thinks. ... You don't have any problem understanding where you stand with him."


Bored with the insurance business, Mr. Clancy began working on a novel in his spare time, after reading a newspaper account of a mutiny aboard the Soviet destroyer Storozhevoy in 1975. The result was "The Hunt for Red October," a tale of superpower conflict centered on a renegade Soviet nuclear submarine.

The book took off like a heat-seeking missile, selling 300,000 hardbacks and 2 million paperbacks in two years.

The book got a significant boost when President Ronald Reagan declared it a "perfect yarn" and other officials hinted playfully that it might contain classified information. One version of that story has a publicist working feverishly to get the book to the presidential bedside table, but Mr. Clancy insisted it was simply a reviewer with a friend with connections who passed it along.

"I've been lucky," Mr. Clancy said in the 1992 interview with The Sun, as he inhaled an omnipresent Merit menthol cigarette.

In 1985, Mr. Clancy told The Sun that he wasn't trying to write the great American novel.

"I did not write King Lear. I am not Hemingway, Faulkner or Shakespeare, and I won't say Steinbeck, because I don't like him," he said.


"The whole point of writing is to get an idea out of your head and put it in somebody else's head," he told the newspaper in 2004.

Mr. Clancy's daily writing regimen was to work four to six hours with a goal of producing at least five pages.

Mr. Clancy's success enabled him to purchase a 17,000-square-foot penthouse condominium at the Ritz-Carlton whose price tag was $16.6 million and where he purportedly wanted to build a firing range.

The Sun reported last year that Mr. Clancy's Inner Harbor digs had by far the highest tax payment of any home in Baltimore — almost $350,000. That was more than all the payments from homeowners in some city neighborhoods, according to the article.

He also owned an 80-acre farm overlooking the Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland that included a retired Army Sherman tank, a gift from his first wife.

When his third novel, "Patriot Games," was published in 1987, again featuring the character of Jack Ryan, a Sun reviewer wrote, "Mr. Clancy catches the smells of the Chesapeake Bay country like John Barth and the color and activity of Baltimore and its environs like Anne Tyler. ... Where alas, is a Washingtonian to enshrine that city with the loving felicity of this trio?"


Some observers thought that with the fall of communism in 1991, Mr. Clancy, who often used coups in his books as a literary device, might have trouble continuing to write thrillers.

Later that year, with the publication of "The Sum of All Fears," he turned to Middle East nuclear terrorists and proved his versatility, giving agent Jack Ryan a further lease on life.

As part of a divorce settlement in 1999 from his first wife, the former Wanda Thomas, Mr. Clancy, the second-largest Orioles shareholder, split his ownership, about 24 percent before the settlement, with his ex-wife, The Sun reported in 2000.

Mr. Clancy later served as the Orioles' vice chairman of community projects and community affairs.

"He was a regular presence at Oriole Park and enjoyed talking about baseball, the ballclub and its operations. We are deeply saddened by Tom's passing. He will be missed and long remembered," Mr. Angelos said.

Mr. Clancy's tough-guy and often-prickly, sarcastic countenance turned to mush when the subject was Kyle, a boy from Long Island who shared Mr. Clancy's fascination with fighting men and their weaponry. In 1990, Kyle, then 6 and battling cancer, wrote a fan letter to the author.


He responded first with a squadron of surplus airplane posters. Then, as Kyle's condition deteriorated, Mr. Clancy leaned on friends at the Pentagon to arrange visits for Kyle on warships and planes.

As Kyle neared death, Mr. Clancy served as tour guide for a visit to Disney World and went on to found the Kyle Foundation to help similarly ill children.

For all of his celebrity, Mr. Clancy kept a rather low profile in Baltimore, preferring to quietly dine at Aldo's in Little Italy or send a driver for takeout, said Sergio Vitale, the restaurant's proprietor.

No information about services was available Wednesday.

Mr. Clancy is survived by his wife of 14 years, the former Alexandra Marie Llewellyn, a freelance television reporter; a son, Thomas L. Clancy III of Chicago; four daughters, Michelle E. Bandy of Virginia Beach, Va., Christine C. Blocksidge of Prince Frederick, Kathleen W. Clancy of Jupiter, Fla., and Alexis Jacqueline Page Clancy of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.

The Morning Sun

The Morning Sun


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Former Baltimore Sun reporter Jon Morgan, Sun reporters Richard Gorelick and Dean Jones Jr., and Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.


Clancy novels turned into movies

"The Hunt for Red October" was Tom Clancy's first novel, released in 1984. It became the first of five movies starring hero Jack Ryan. The movie, in theaters in 1990, starred Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan.

Harrison Ford took over the role of Jack Ryan for two movies: "Patriot Games" in 1992 and "Clear and Present Danger" in 1994. The books came out in 1987 and 1989, respectively.

"The Sum of All Fears" was published in 1991. In the 2002 movie starring Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan, Baltimore is partly destroyed by an atomic bomb (Denver was the target in the book).

Chris Pine will star as Jack Ryan in "Shadow One" scheduled for a Christmas release. It's the first Jack Ryan movie not based directly on a Clancy novel.

An earlier version of this obituary gave the incorrect first name for one of Mr. Clancy's daughters. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.