In his spare time he began to plot a novel — about an ex-Marine who worked for the
What happened next was the beginning of an American success story that far exceeded his expectations.
"I just wanted to be in the
Gripping and loaded with an extraordinary degree of realistic detail about secret military technology, "The Hunt for Red October" was published in 1984 to rave reviews, including one from President Reagan declaring it "the perfect yarn."
It soared to the top of bestseller lists, inspired a blockbuster 1990 movie starring
Clancy, 66, a master of the techno-thriller who wrote 17 bestsellers with 100 million copies in print, died Tuesday at
"I think Tom was really the first major writer in the genre to make realism the top priority," said
Members of the military, who formed the core of Clancy's early fans, attested to his technical prowess in describing such things as submarine warfare and mobile anti-aircraft guns.
"Clancy was one of one" said James Huston, a former Navy F-14 aviator and author of eight novels on military themes. "He was amazingly detailed and accurate. I was still on active duty when he was writing and found, like many others, that the closer you are to what he is writing about — in my case F-14s — the more you can discern his experience was secondhand yet was still shockingly impressive."
Clancy's sophisticated accounts of military gizmos and espionage were so convincing that some officers at the U.S. Naval Institute in
Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Bob Butcher, a decorated aviator from the
"They all had great respect for Clancy and his ability to find information that was not easily discoverable," Butcher said. "All his information was open-source but not easy to find. He put it together, piece by piece. The submariners were amazed at his ability."
After the novel was published, the U.S. Naval Institute, which allowed Clancy access for research and wound up becoming his first publisher, changed its rules to put certain information off-limits, Butcher said.
Clancy had detractors. Some focused on his tendency to create wooden characters. Others criticized the conservative political views espoused in his novels. In Clancy's world, the heroes are straitlaced patriots, might is always right, and military missions always go off as planned.
Scott Shuger, a former naval intelligence officer and journalist, wrote scathingly of Clancy in Washington Monthly magazine in 1990 for unrealistic depictions of the
Such criticism rankled Clancy, who never tried to hide his political stripes.
"The U.S. military is us," he once said. "There is no truer representation of a country than the people that it sends into the field to fight for it."
Thomas L. Clancy Jr. was born in Baltimore on April 12, 1947. His father was a letter carrier and his mother worked in a store's credit department. He went to Catholic schools and loved gadgets and reading military history that stoked dreams of being a tank commander.
At Loyola College in Baltimore he joined the ROTC but was barred from serving in Vietnam because of his extreme
In 1973 he joined O.F. Bowen Agency, a small Maryland insurance company founded by his wife's grandfather. He did well enough to buy the firm in 1980. By then he and his wife had a family and a comfortable middle-class life. But for Clancy it wasn't enough.
At the back of his mind was a newspaper story he had read in 1976 about the crew of a Russian frigate that wanted to defect to Sweden. He changed the frigate to a submarine and read everything he could find on the subject. He mined friends and clients who belonged to the Navy for stories about their military duties and especially about life on a sub.
He started ending his work day early to write. Soon the novel was consuming his weekends, too. "My wife gave me hell," Clancy recalled in the
When he heard the Naval Institute Press wanted to start publishing fiction, he submitted his manuscript. The editors loved it and paid him a $5,000 advance. Copies of the book were sent to Washington officials and area bookstores; the
With a multi-book, $3-million contract with G.P. Putnam's Sons, he produced a rapid succession of hits, including "Red Storm Rising" (1986), "Patriot Games" (1987), "The Cardinal of the Kremlin" (1988), "Clear and Present Danger" (1989) and "The Sum of All Fears" (1991).
He wrote of terrorist plots against British royals, the arms race and high-tech defense systems, and Colombian drug lords' threat to national security. Many of his books featured the stalwart Jack Ryan, whom Clancy described as "a new, improved version of me."
Joseph Wambaugh, the Marine Corps veteran who became a best-selling author, told The Times on Wednesday that he knew Clancy would succeed after reading an early review copy of "Red October" in 1984. "He was remarkable with the thriller; he was a natural-born storyteller. I knew this book was going to get the guy out of the insurance business."
Clancy later branched out into military nonfiction, with titles such as "Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment" (1994).
In 1994, the
His fortune enabled him to build a stone mansion overlooking Chesapeake Bay with two dozen rooms, an indoor pool, underground gun range and an unusual birthday gift from his wife: an M1A1 Abrams tank, which he proudly displayed on the front lawn.
His marriage to Wanda Thomas ended in divorce in 1998. In 1999 he married Alexandra Llewellyn, who survives him along with their daughter, Alexis Jacqueline Page Clancy. His other survivors include four children from his previous marriage — Michelle E. Bandy, Christine C. Blocksidge, Thomas L. Clancy III and Kathleen W. Clancy — and four grandchildren.
Times staff writers Tony Perry, Thomas Curwen and John Horn contributed to this story.