Best-selling author Vince Flynn, who wrote the Mitch Rapp counterterrorism thriller series and sold more than 15 million books in the U.S. alone, died Wednesday in Minnesota after a more than two-year battle with prostate cancer, according to friends and his publisher. He was 47.
Flynn was supporting himself by bartending when he self-published his first novel, Term Limits, in 1997 after getting more than 60 rejection letters. After it became a local best-seller, Picket Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint, signed him to a two-book deal — and Term Limits became a New York Times best-seller in paperback.
The St. Paul-based author also sold millions of books in the international market and averaged about a book a year, most of them focused on Rapp, a CIA counterterrorism operative. His 14th novel, The Last Man, was published last year.
“As good as Vince was on the page — and he gave millions of readers countless hours of pleasure — he was even more engaging in person,” said Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of his publisher, Simon & Schuster. “Yes, we will miss the Mitch Rapp stories that are classic modern thrillers, but we will miss Vince even more.”
Flynn died at a hospital in St. Paul, surrounded by about 35 relatives and friends who prayed the Rosary, said longtime family friend Kathy Schneeman. She said his deep Catholic faith was an important part of his character.
“That’s what he would have liked. He talks about his faith just as much as he would talk about politics and current events with our group of friends,” Schneeman said.
Flynn was born to an Irish Catholic family in St. Paul, the fifth of seven children. After graduating with an economics degree from the University of St. Thomas in 1988, he went to work as an account and sales marketing specialist with Kraft General Foods. That marketing background later came in handy as he promoted Term Limits.
Wanting a new challenge, he quit Kraft in 1990 when he landed an aviation candidate slot with the Marine Corps, but he was later disqualified due to seizures he suffered following a childhood car accident. Thwarted from becoming a military aviator, he got the idea of writing thrillers.
“If [Tom] Clancy could do it, why can’t I?” Flynn said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press.
He went to work for the Twin Cities based commercial real estate company United Properties and started working on a book idea in his spare time. Two years later, he quit so he could devote more time to writing and moved to Colorado. He began working on what became Term Limits, a story about assassins who targeted fat-cat congressmen.
Flynn was diagnosed with stage three metastatic prostate cancer in November 2010. The fatigue from his radiation treatments eventually made it difficult to focus on writing for more than an hour or two, and in October 2011, he reluctantly postponed publication for several months of his 13th book, Kill Shot, which followed Rapp’s adventures as he pursued those responsible for the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
Flynn is survived by his wife, Lysa Flynn, and three children.