Colleen McCullough, author of the bestselling novel "The Thorn Birds," died Thursday at age 77. She had suffered from ill health in recent years and died in a hospital on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific.
Although she wrote more than two dozen books, she was best known for "The Thorn Birds," a novel of a tragic romance. Published in 1977, it became an international sensation, selling more than 30 million copies. It was adapted into a television miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward that won six Emmys.
McCullough was born in Australia and studied neurophysiology. She was working as a research associate in Yale University's neurology department when she wrote her first novel, 'Tim," and finished the manuscript for "The Thorn Birds."
The novel, about a priest's affair with the wife of a rancher in Australia in the early part of the 20th century, raised McCullough's profile so much she felt she had to quit her research job. "There were threats, and all sorts of weirdos popping out," she told The Times in 1990.
She picked up and moved to tiny Norfolk Island, inhabited mainly by descendants of the survivors of the famous HMS Bounty mutiny of the late 18th century. Single and in her 40s, it was there that she met and married Ric Robinson, 13 years her junior. "I am Mrs. Robinson," she told The Times, laughing.
McCullough often switched genres, writing a series of historical novels set in Rome, crime novels set in the 1960s in the U.S., and a science fiction novel titled "The Third Millennium." Her last book was 2013's "Bittersweet," about sisters in New South Wales in the 1920s.