Writer Tom Clancy Dies At 66

Oct 2, 2013
Originally published on October 3, 2013 2:19 pm

Best selling author Tom Clancy died today; he was 66.

His top-selling novels helped forge a new genre of military fiction that gave readers detailed knowledge of the Pentagon and the Soviet war machine.

Best-sellers included “A Clear and Present Danger,” “Patriot Games” and “The Hunt For Red October,” which inspired the 1990 film of the same name.

Joseph Finder writes thrillers, and joins Here & Now to discuss Clancy’s legacy.


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Well, there's word today that author Tom Clancy has died. He was only 66. His worldwide top-selling novels helped forge a new genre of military fiction, best-sellers including "A Clear and Present Danger," "Patriot Games" and "The Hunt for Red October," which inspired the 1990 film about a rogue Russian submarine captain who defies orders and heads his sub towards the U.S. and is then faced with navigating around torpedo attacks.


SEAN CONNERY: (as Marco Ramius) Right full rudder. Reverse starboard engine.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Right full rudder. (Unintelligible)...

YOUNG: Tom Clancy was one of the first writers to give readers inside detailed knowledge of the Pentagon. His readers say his Jack Ryan novel, "Debt of Honor," actually foretold the events of September 11 seven years before they happen. What else was his legacy? Writer Joseph Finder. His recent thriller is "Paranoia." It was made into a film starring Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman. And Joe joins us in the studio.

Joe, I know you spoke with Tom Clancy. Did he influence you?

JOSEPH FINDER: Yeah, he was. He influenced me. He influenced a generation - a couple of generations of thriller writers, actually. He really launched the techno-thriller. Whether he invented it or not isn't important. He really created this genre, which was all about the power and the intrigue of weaponry. It was really - a lot of ways, it was about how things work.

"The Hunt for Red October" was revolutionary because it - you know, he sold that for $5,000 to the Naval Institute Press. And they didn't - they'd never publish a novel before. And the book read almost like an operational - operation manual for a nuclear submarine. It was so filled with facts, inside information.

YOUNG: Well, and Ronald Reagan loved it and also helped launch Tom Clancy. If Tom Clancy launched the genre, Ronald Reagan helped launch him. And so much detailed information that Clancy once said that when he met then-Navy Secretary John Lehman, the first thing Lehman said to him was: Who the hell cleared that? Did he have top security information? He said he didn't. He said it was his imagination.

FINDER: Yeah. He knew a lot of people. You know, he lived in Baltimore. He knew a lot of people in the Navy. He was an insurance agent. He sort of sold insurance. He had some clients who were in the military. He was more of a fanboy in a lot of ways. He wanted to be in the military, couldn't. His eyesight was too bad. So he talked to a lot of people. But he was always careful to point out that he'd never revealed classified information.

The cool thing about Clancy's novels was - it felt as if you were reading classified information, as if you were getting information you couldn't get anywhere else. And this was in the late Cold War, when we really wanted to believe in American triumphalism. We really wanted to believe that we were superior in weaponry and in intelligence. And that's what his books dwelt on.

YOUNG: Well, you mentioned that he couldn't be in the military because of his nearsightedness. And he has said that - so he chose this other path to have maybe the same feeling. Here's an interview on C-SPAN in 2002 when he was asked when he decided he wanted to be an author.


TOM CLANCY: That was back in high school, Loyola High School, Towson, Maryland. It was about 1964. I decided I just want to see my name on the cover of a book. And, yeah, some people want to become fighter pilots or brain surgeons or sail around the world all by themselves in a sailboat. I decided I want to be an author.

YOUNG: In other words, he wanted some of that thrill. I mean he says that right upfront. And he sure got that. He had his critics, though. We should point out there are people who felt that maybe he was too in love with the subject, the military and intrigue, that Jack Ryan - his character - had no flaws. In fact, nobody in the military ever had flaws in any of his books. And that he maybe was marching too in-sync with the military that he was writing about.

FINDER: Yeah. And right after 9/11, he gave an interview, I remember, in which he said that 9/11 should be blamed on liberals for gutting the CIA and getting rid of the whole human intelligence aspect. Not a fair criticism, in my opinion.

YOUNG: There are others at the time who said that when the Bush administration said how could we have known that planes would crash into the Pentagon, many people said, well, because Tom Clancy did it in his novel seven years earlier. He was very much in the middle of all that.

FINDER: A novel called "Debt of Honor," but actually it was about a Japanese citizen who flew a 747 into the U.S. Capitol. So it wasn't the Pentagon, or it wasn't the World Trade Center, but it was still that kind of outside attack with the detail that made it real.

YOUNG: But there he was also. The point is he was in the middle of it. He was in the middle of the national conversation. What do you think, you know, overarching - in the minute we have - his legacy will be?

Well, he was a brand. He really created a type of entertainment that was about the operational, about the real world things, about how thing actually work. It was a kind of a romanticization of the military and intelligence. And I think that that has led into the movies and TV, "24," "Homeland," a whole empire...

Video games.

FINDER: And video games. Absolutely.

YOUNG: Just briefly, his part in video games?

FINDER: Yeah. He had a company, launched "Rainbow Six." He had "Rainbow Team." He had a number of big video games because his novels were so conducive to that sort of inside feeling, playing that you were there.

YOUNG: That's author Joseph Finder, commenting on the death of Tom Clancy at just 66. Way too young. Joe, thanks so much.

FINDER: Thank you, Robin.

YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.