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'Lonesome Dove' Author Larry McMurtry Has Died

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Stories about the American West are often over-romantic tales of big skies and cowboys - not Larry McMurtry's. He wrote unsentimental depictions of people facing a changing world. Many of his books were adapted into movies - "The Last Picture Show," "Terms Of Endearment," "Texasville." He also co-adapted the screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain." McMurtry died last night of heart failure. He was 84 years old. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Larry McMurtry's big, Pulitzer Prize-winning book 1985's "Lonesome Dove" followed retired Texas Rangers at the end of the 1800s. It was turned into a miniseries in 1989 starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LONESOME DOVE")

TOMMY LEE JONES: (As Woodrow F. Call) We come to this place to make money. There wasn't nothing about fun in the deal.

ROBERT DUVALL: (As Augustus "Gus" McCrae) What are you talking about? You don't even like money. You like money even less than you like fun, if that's possible.

LIMBONG: McMurtry told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1995 that while the myth of the cowboy held a lot of power, it was just that - a myth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LARRY MCMURTRY: I grew up with cowboys. I respect them up to a point, but I'm not crazy about them. And I know I think something of their limitations, having grown up with them.

LIMBONG: Larry McMurtry grew up in Archer City, Texas. He came from a family of cattlemen - his father was one - but he knew that the industry wasn't going to last. Growing up in that small town gave him the inspiration to write "The Last Picture Show," a coming-of-age story about two best friends. It was adapted into the 1971 Peter Bogdanovich movie. A few years later, McMurtry wrote "Terms Of Endearment," following a relationship between a mother and daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TERMS OF ENDEARMENT")

DEBRA WINGER: (As Emma Horton) I'm unofficially pregnant. I mean, we haven't gotten the test back yet, but you know me. I'm never late.

LIMBONG: That was turned into an Academy Award-winning movie starring Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TERMS OF ENDEARMENT")

WINGER: (As Emma Horton) I'm going to get so mad if you're not happy.

SHIRLEY MACLAINE: (As Aurora Greenway) Why should I? Why should I be happy about being a grandmother?

LIMBONG: It's these sorts of relationships that gave McMurtry's work its heft. He and producer Diana Ossana adapted Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain," and he told NPR in 2005 that he wanted to give the full scope of the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MCMURTRY: We put in the domestic life. We put in the kind of parallel story of the women in their lives and showed them how complicated this tragedy actually was.

LIMBONG: The movie won the two an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. Larry McMurtry wrote dozens of novels, screenplays, nonfiction books, but his hometown didn't have a decent bookstore until he decided to open one. And in their acceptance speech at the Oscars, McMurtry made sure to thank all the booksellers in the world.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACEY CHATTAWAY'S "STARLIGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.