Dr. M. Scott Peck, the psychiatrist who worked his way into the national consciousness with the publication of his 1978 self-help book, “The Road Less Traveled,” has died. He was 69.
Peck died Sunday at his home in Warren, Conn., said Los Angeles publicist Michael Levine. He said Peck had suffered from pancreatic and liver duct cancer.
The book, which began with a sentence confirming the universal feeling that “life is difficult,” sold more than 6 million copies, was translated into at least 20 languages and set a longevity record for a paperback -- more than 10 years -- on the New York Times bestseller list.
Along with Peck’s other books, it made him a multi-billionaire, a highly sought-after lecturer and such a household name in the early 1980s that many called him “the national shrink” and some suggested he run for president.
A 25th anniversary edition of “The Road” was issued in 2002, and Peck wrote several sequels. They included “Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth” and “Meditations From the Road,” both published in 1993, and 1997’s “The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety.”
Subtitled “A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth,” the original book avoided the quick fixes prevalent in the pop psychology of its era. Instead it urged people to face problems squarely and deal with them through self-discipline, turning weakness into strength.
Aiming not only at individuals but also at what President Carter, who was then in office, had termed a “national malaise,” Peck called for a moral and spiritual reawakening in the United States.
“The fact is, life is difficult and there is often much to worry about,” the author said in a 1991 interview with Playboy. “That’s very disillusioning for people who think that we’re here to be happy.”
When the book was reissued in 2002, a Times reviewer said it “stood out from the throng of ‘70s touchy-feely, self-help manuals,” because it not only told individuals how to improve mental health but also controversially melded psychology and spirituality.
The book, which gained popularity and added sales largely by word of mouth, was widely endorsed by Catholic and Protestant church officials and self-help groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous.
Random House, where the little-known psychiatrist first tried to peddle his original manuscript, turned him down, saying the final section was “too Christ-y.”
Simon & Schuster bought the work for $7,500 and printed a modest hardback run of 5,000 copies.
The book took off only after Peck hit the lecture circuit and personally sought reviews in key publications. Reprinted in paperback in 1980, “The Road” first made bestseller lists in 1983 -- five years after its initial publication.
The Times reviewer in 2002 called Peck’s writing “both eloquent and entertaining,” and said that, even after 25 years, the book remained “a reasoned, humane and jargon-free appraisal of the human condition that still contains many good, useful ideas.... a wise, provocative and generous book, still well worth the price of the journey.”
A student of Zen Buddhism who converted to nondenominational Christianity in 1980, Peck wrote nearly a score of books, both nonfiction and fiction, dealing primarily with taking personal responsibility and ways to work toward love and spirituality.
“I guess if you want one single thing I’m about,” Peck told The Times in 1990, “it’s that I’m against easy answers.”
His second book, also a bestseller, was “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil” in 1983. In a review for The Times, Malcolm Boyd called it “a curious mix, linking professional expertise with personal opinion, case history with moral preachment, political liberalism with religious dogmatism. It is a stubborn, sometimes arrogant treatise.” He added, “Yet useful and promising creative ideas are in these controversial pages.”
Peck’s novels dealt with such subjects as creating communities, a spiritual murder mystery and a psychiatrist’s after-death travels. Of 1996’s “In Heaven as On Earth: A Vision of the Afterlife,” a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that it was “talky and lacking dramatic momentum” but would appeal to the writer’s many loyal readers.
Born Morgan Scott Peck on May 22, 1936, in New York City, the author earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard, studied pre-med at Columbia University and got his medical degree at Case Western Reserve University. He served in the Army, rising to lieutenant colonel, first as chief of psychology at the U.S. Army Medical Center in Okinawa and later as assistant chief of psychiatry and neurology in the office of the surgeon general in Washington.
Peck practiced psychiatry privately in New Preston, Conn., from 1972 until 1984 and incorporated anecdotes from patients’ case histories in his books. He then helped establish the Foundation for Community Encouragement and devoted himself to writing, lecturing and consulting.
Peck is survived by his second wife, Kathleen Kline Yates Peck; two children from his earlier marriage to Lily Ho, Belinda and Christopher; and two grandchildren.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to a charity of the donor’s choice.