On this day in 2013, espionage and military thriller author Tom Clancy, whose books include “The Hunt for Red October” and “Patriot Games,” dies in Baltimore at age 66 following a brief illness. During a career that spanned nearly 30 years, Clancy penned more than two dozen novels, a number of which were made into hit movies and popular video games. By the time of his death, more than 100 million copies of Clancy’s books were in print and 17 of his novels had reached the top of The New York Times’ best-seller list.
Clancy was born on April 12, 1947, in Baltimore, where he grew up in a middle-class neighborhood. At Loyola College (now known as Loyola University Maryland), Clancy majored in English and participated in ROTC; however, he was unable to join the military due to severe nearsightedness. Instead, after graduating in 1969, he became an insurance agent. In his spare time, Clancy read military journals and eventually started writing what would become his debut novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” about a renegade Soviet nuclear submarine pursued by both the Americans and the Soviets (the story was based loosely on the real-life attempted mutiny of a Soviet missile frigate in 1975). Purchased by a publisher for $5,000 and released in 1984, “The Hunt for Red October” became a runaway best-seller, thanks in part to an endorsement from President Ronald Reagan, who labeled the book “my kind of yarn.” The novel was full of authentic details about military technology, something that would become one of Clancy’s trademarks and which would initially lead some U.S. military officials to suspect the author had gained access to classified information. In fact, he had no insider knowledge but instead did in-depth research.
Clancy followed “The Hunt for Red October” with such novels as “Patriot Games” (1987), about a terrorist plot against the British royal family, “Clear and Present Danger” (1989), about a covert U.S. military campaign against a Colombian drug cartel, and “The Sum of All Fears” (1991), about terrorists who use a nuclear weapon to try to start a war between America and Russia. Other Clancy titles include “Executive Orders” (1996), “Rainbow Six” (1998), “Against All Enemies” (2011), “Threat Vector” (2012) and “Command Authority” (2013). Some of his work seemed to predict real-life events. For example, well before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Clancy wrote “Debt of Honor” (1994), in which a character flies a Boeing 747 into the U.S. Capitol.
Clancy’s most famous character, Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who in later stories becomes U.S. president, was portrayed on the big screen by Alec Baldwin in 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October”; Harrison Ford in 1992’s “Patriot Games” and 1994’s “Clear and Present Danger”; Ben Affleck in 2002’s “The Sum of All Fears” and Chris Pine in 2014’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” In addition to his movies, novels and a number of nonfiction books about the military, Clancy co-founded a video game company and became a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles. He famously had an Army tank on the lawn of his Maryland estate.