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Brian Garfield, prolific author of 'Death Wish,' dies at 79

Brian Garfield, prolific author of 'Death Wish,' dies at 79
Brian Garfield (Courtesy Judy Coppage)

Novelist Brian Garfield, whose murderous vigilante classic “Death Wish” launched a film franchise starring Charles Bronson, has died at age 79.

Garfield died at his home in Pasadena, literary agent Judy Coppage said Monday.

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A New York City native who grew up in Arizona, Garfield wrote dozens of books in a variety of genres, from thrillers to war stories, and his worldwide sales topped 20 million copies.

Many of his works were adapted into feature films and television movies, including "Hopscotch," which he helped produce and write; "Wild Times" and the acclaimed "The Stepfather," which starred Terry O'Quinn as a serial killer.

Garfield's awards included an Edgar in 1976 for "Hopscotch" for the year's best crime novel. He was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “The Thousand-Mile War: War World II in Alaska and the Aleutians.”

"RIP Brian Garfield. Fine writer, friend for years," crime novelist Lawrence Block tweeted.

Garfield, however, remained best known for 1972’s “Death Wish,” the story of a New Yorker who morphs into a tunnel-visioned vigilante after his family is viciously assaulted.

The first “Death Wish” film, inevitably compared to Clint Eastwood's “Dirty Harry,” came out two years later and was followed by several others with Bronson, including “Death Wish II” and “Death Wish 3.” For the most part, Garfield disliked the “Death Wish” sequels.

“They were nothing more than vanity showcases for the very limited talents of Charles Bronson,” Garfield said in an interview with Popmatters, an online popular culture magazine.

President Trump mentioned the original movie in defending the 2nd Amendment in 2015 while on the campaign trail, and Bruce Willis starred in a much-maligned remake of the film in 2018.

Garfield continued the vigilante story in 1975 with the novel “Death Sentence,” which was released as a movie starring Kevin Bacon more than two decades later.

If the complexities and contradictions of the main character had been lost on Bronson, Bacon gave viewers the “character’s entire slide into atavism,” Garfield said.

Charles Bronson in "Death Wish II" in 1982.
Charles Bronson in "Death Wish II" in 1982. (Handout)

Though Garfield wrote more than 70 books and seemed to delight in embracing different genres, the weight of Hollywood’s take on “Death Wish” was unshakable.

“One does get stuck with a reputation,” Garfield told the online publication NovelRocket in 2007. “Sometimes one may deserve it. All one can do is keep working and ignore the idiots.”

Garfield was born Jan. 26, 1939, in New York City. His mother was Frances Garfield, a portrait artist and longtime friend of Georgia O’Keeffe. He grew up in Arizona and earned a master’s degree from the University of Arizona.

He was writing from an early age and completed his first novel, the western “Range Justice,” when he was 18.

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He also was a musician and toured with an early rock ’n’ roll group, the Palisades.

Garfield, who died Dec. 29, is survived by his wife, Bina.

Times staff writer Steve Marble contributed to this report.

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