On this day in 2004, Swedish writer Stieg Larsson dies suddenly of a heart attack at age 50, only months after turning in the manuscripts for three crime thrillers—“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl who Played with Fire” and “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”—which would later become international best-sellers. Known collectively as the Millennium trilogy, the novels feature the characters Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a young pierced and tattooed computer hacker with a troubled past. Larsson, who never lived to see his books’ success, died without a will, setting off a protracted legal battle for the rights to his work.
Larsson was born on August 15, 1954, in the town of Skelleftehamm, in northern Sweden. His parents soon relocated to Stockholm in search of better job opportunities, leaving their son to be raised by his maternal grandparents. Larsson eventually joined his parents and younger brother in Sweden’s capital city in the early 1960s. He went on to work as a graphic designer for a Swedish news agency, and later became an investigative journalist who focused on exposing right-wing extremist groups.
In 2002, while vacationing with Eva Gabrielsson, his longtime live-in companion, Larsson began writing what would become the first book in the Millennium series. Over the next two years, he completed three manuscripts for a Swedish publisher. There has been speculation that Gabrielsson, an architect whom Larsson met at an anti-Vietnam rally in Sweden in 1972, helped him with the books; however, the exact nature of her collaboration is unknown. Within months after delivering the manuscripts, Larsson, a heavy smoker and junk food fanatic, died of a massive heart attack after a broken elevator forced him to climb the stairs to his office.
In August 2005, the first Millennium novel was published in Sweden under the title “Man Som Hatar Kvinnor,” or “Men Who Hate Women.” The English-language version of the book would go by the title “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” In May 2006, “Flickan Som Lekte Med Elden” or “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” was published in Sweden, followed one year later by “Luftslottet Som Sprangdes” or “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” The books were best-sellers in their author’s homeland before going on to become a publishing phenomenon and sell millions of copies around the world. Swedish movie versions of the books have been made, and the first English-language Hollywood adaptation is slated for release in late 2011.
Since Larsson died without a will, according to Swedish law, his estate—including the rights to his books–went not to Gabrielsson, his partner of some 30 years, but to his father and younger brother. Gabrielsson has claimed that Larsson was not close to his father and sibling, and a legal battle between the two sides ensued and is ongoing. One thing Gabrielsson does have is Larsson’s laptop, which contains several hundred pages of a fourth–and potentially highly valuable–Millennium novel.