David Oliver Relin dies at 49; coauthor of ‘Three Cups of Tea’


David Oliver Relin, a journalist who coauthored the celebrated but controversial book “Three Cups of Tea,” has committed suicide in Oregon, authorities said. He was 49.

Relin, who lived in Portland, died Nov. 15 in the Portland-area community of Corbett, Multnomah County Deputy Medical Examiner Tom Chappelle said Monday. He said Relin died of self-inflicted blunt-force head injuries.

Relin’s body was found along railroad tracks near the Columbia River, Multnomah County sheriff’s officials told the Associated Press.


“Three Cups of Tea,” which Relin wrote with Greg Mortenson, is the best-selling account of Mortenson’s travels in the mountains of central Asia and his efforts to build schools in the region’s impoverished villages. The book, which has sold 4 million copies since it was published in 2006, describes how Mortenson was inspired to take action after he became lost and dehydrated while on a mountaineering expedition and was nursed back to health by Pakistani villagers.

The account came under scrutiny in April 2011 when the CBS News program “60 Minutes” and best-selling author Jon Krakauer alleged that it contained numerous fabrications.

They presented evidence that the book’s underlying narrative — in which Mortenson tells of recuperating in the Pakistani village of Korphe after a failed 1993 attempt to climb the K2 peak, deciding to build his first school in the village and being kidnapped by the Taliban — did not occur as described.

They also alleged that Mortenson’s Montana-based school-building philanthropy, the Central Asia Institute, had mismanaged funds and that a substantial share of the money it raised had been spent to promote the book, not for schools.

In April, a federal judge in Montana rejected a lawsuit brought by several people who had purchased the book, dismissing allegations that the authors, their publisher and the charity had conspired to turn Mortenson into a false hero to sell books and raise money for the charity.

But in legal filings in August 2011, an attorney for Relin said the litigation had damaged his career and that he had no insurance to cover his legal defense. In a separate filing, attorney Sonia Montalbano said the author took no position on many of the accusations in the lawsuit but did “stand by the manuscript he wrote.”


The attorney also noted that Relin had acknowledged potential inaccuracies in “Three Cups of Tea” in an introduction for the book, in which he wrote that Mortenson’s “fluid sense of time made pinning down the exact sequence of many events in this book almost impossible.”

Mortenson did not respond Monday to requests for comment.

He has acknowledged some discrepancies in the book, the result of what he called “omissions and compressions” in the name of literary license, but insisted that the events he described did occur.

In April, in a case that did not involve Relin, the Montana attorney general’s office said Mortenson had agreed to repay more than $1 million in travel and other expenses to the Central Asia Institute.

David Oliver Relin was born Dec. 12, 1962, in Rochester, N.Y. He graduated from Vassar College and received a fellowship to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

A freelance journalist, Relin wrote and edited for several magazines, including Parade, before his collaboration with Mortenson on “Three Cups of Tea.”

His second book, about two doctors working to cure cataract-related blindness in the developing world, is scheduled for publication by Random House in June.

Relin’s survivors include his wife, Dawn, his mother, Marjorie, and two sisters