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Obituary

Arizona poet, 'Legends of the Fall' author Jim Harrison dies at 78

Jim Harrison, a writer whose "voice came from the American heartland," died Saturday at his home in Patagonia, south of Tucson. Often likened to Hemingway and Faulkner for his personality and prose alike, Harrison wrote vividly of the outdoors and sharply of man's interaction with the land.

His appetite for food and especially drink also gave weight to the Hemingway comparisons. Harrison split his time between homes in Southern Arizona and Livingstone, Montana, using those places and his native Michigan as backdrops for his works of fiction, poetry and memoir.

Among his 30-odd published works, Harrison was best known for his 1979 collection "Legends of the Fall," for which he later wrote the screenplay for the 1994 film starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn.

Harrison's death was confirmed by a spokeswoman for his publisher, Grove Atlantic. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Video: Harrison remembering Chuck Bowden

"His voice came from the American heartland and his deep and abiding love of the American landscape runs through his extraordinary body of work," said Grove Atlantic CEO Morgan Entrekin.

Harrison was born Dec. 11, 1937 in Grayling, Michigan. He spent his life as a writer, with a short stint as an English professor before dedicating himself to his craft full time.

His first novel, "Wolf: A False Memoir," was published in 1971. His latest collection of poems, "Dead Man's Float" was published this January.

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Tucson author and journalist Gregory McNamee wrote of Harrison's death for Kirkus Reviews on Sunday:

The first time I met Jim Harrison, some 35 years ago, he quoted from the poetry of Sergei Yesenin and the Zen philosophy of Dogen Kigen, told an off-color coyote story from the northern Great Plains, told a still more off-color story relating to a stint as a visiting lecturer, and spoke admiringly of the technical details of a shotgun that he was thinking of buying. He then cooked up the best steak I have ever tasted, doused in an evocative chimichurri sauce that he had been shepherding over the years from one refrigerator to another, and proceeded to drink me, nearly 20 years his junior, under the table.

***

Ribald, blasphemous, boisterous: Jim Harrison was a bulldog of a man, determined to enjoy the best of life while he could. Some of the light went out of him, sadly, when his beloved wife, Linda, died last fall; as he told the New York Times in an interview published just last week, he found that it helped to read Antonio Machado, that most elegantly sad of Spanish poets. He was a little lonely, he told me when we last spoke, but with an endless list of books that he wanted to read and write.


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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Harrison reminisces about the late author Chuck Bowden, March 2015.