The father of the techno-thriller and the author of the U.S. Naval Institute’s first novel died on Tuesday, several sources told USNI News.
Tom Clancy, 66, died at a Baltimore hosptial, former Clancy researcher and co-author John Gresham told USNI News on Wednesday.
“Five or six years ago Tom suffered a heart attack and he went through bypass surgery,” Gresham said.
“It wasn’t that he had another heart attack, [his heart] just wore out.”
A former insurance agent in Calvert County, Md., Clancy was also an aficionado of military history and its technical side. Many of his insurance clients were former nuclear submariners employed at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant not far from his home. As he was selling them insurance, he was also picking their brains on how nuclear reactors worked on naval vessels and what the potential was for the ballistic missiles being carried on the U.S. Navy’s nuclear missile “boomer” submarines. He also learned about the Soviet Union military complex in the heart of the Cold War.
Clancy first came to the U.S. Naval Institute while he was still selling insurance with a letter to the editor for Proceedings magazine, Fred Rainbow, then editor of Proceedings told USNI News on Wednesday.
“The first time we met him, he made a phone call to Proceedings that he had a letter to the editor he wanted to deliver in person,” Rainbow said.
Editors resisted seeing Clancy but after several persistent phone calls eventually brought him in, published the letter and paid the nominal fee for the work.
“That check has never been cashed because it was framed in his office. It was the first time he was ever paid for writing anything,” Rainbow said.
He published a second piece in Proceedings on using Navy hovercraft as platforms from which to fire nuclear missiles.
“The third time he called he had, The Hunt for Red October,” Rainbow said.
Red October was a thriller about a Soviet boomer submarine captain who set out to defect to the United States under an elaborate ruse. The Naval Institute Press, never before having published a novel, decided to assign the manuscript to editor Connie Buchanan and take a chance on this first-time fiction writer.
The book was published in 1984 and received favorable reviews. But it didn’t take off until then-President Ronald Reagan was photographed with the book. When asked about the novel, Reagan said it was “unputdown-able” and a “perfect yarn.”
The book became a major motion picture in 1990, starring Sean Connery as Soviet Captain Marko Ramius and Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, a recurring character in Clancy’s later books. In one of the film’s opening scenes, Ryan has a copy of Proceedings — on the subject of antisubmarine warfare — in his briefcase.
Clancy’s novel led to publishing of Stephen Coonts’ successful book, Flight of the Intruder, in 1986.
“He changed the face of publishing through the techno-thriller,” Eric Wertheim, author of Naval Institute’s Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, told USNI News on Wednesday.
“He changed the way Americans viewed their military. He had a strong influence on connecting the American people to the military.”