Norwood, Gringos novelist's works were adapted into Oscar-nominated movies.

By Joey Nolfi
February 18, 2020 at 09:29 AM EST

True Grit

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Author Charles Portis, whose best-selling western novel True Grit was twice adapted into Oscar-contending movies starring John Wayne and Jeff Bridges, has died at age 86.

Portis’ brother, Jonathan Portis, told the Associated Press the reclusive novelist had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in recent years, and died Monday in a hospice in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Born in 1933, Portis grew up as a fan of comic books and movies, and credited his time in the Marines with allowing him time to read and hone his love for writing. He later graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1958 with a degree in journalism before working as a night police reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal and as the London bureau chief for the New York Herald Tribune, a career which saw him covering abuse at the hands of police during the civil rights movement and interviewing subjects like Malcolm X and J.D. Salinger.

After leaving the newspaper in 1964, Portis finished his first novel, Norwood — about an ex-Marine from Texas traveling across the country to collect a debt — which was published two years later and adapted as a 1970 television movie starring Glen Campbell and Joe Namath.

Portis published his best-known work, the bloody western True Grit, as a Saturday Evening Post serial in 1968, with the 1969 film version going on to win Wayne his first Oscar for Best Actor. The film followed an Arkansas teen, Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), who enlists the help of a drunken, one-eyed marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) to hunt down her father’s killer. Joel and Ethan Coen released another based on the original novel in 2010, with Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin in the lead roles. The film went on to gross $171 million in North America on top of earning 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Bridges), and Best Supporting Actress (Steinfeld).

Infamously wary of the press, Portis gave few interviews throughout his later career, which saw him settling in Little Rock, where he reportedly worked on an ultimately unreleased novel for years. His last published book, Gringos, was printed in 1991 as his fifth and final work, though he continued to published short-form fiction in The Atlantic throughout the 1990s.

Prior to his death, Portis led a low-key lifestyle, though he received the Oxford American’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Literature. He was considered a regular around Little Rock, with the AP reporting locals knew him for driving a pickup truck around town while also enjoying an occasional beer.

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