BOSTON (Reuters) - Reclusive U.S. author J.D. Salinger, who wrote the American post-war literary classic “The Catcher in the Rye,” has died of natural causes aged 91.
His literary agent, Phyllis Westberg, said he died on Wednesday at his home in New Hampshire.
“The Catcher in the Rye” was published in 1951. Its story of alienation and rebellion, featuring the teenage hero Holden Caulfield, immediately resonated with adolescent and young adult readers.
The novel’s first-person narrative shadows Caulfield through New York City in the days following his expulsion from a Pennsylvania prep school.
Generations of young people read the novel and embraced Caulfield, the phony-hating personification of teenage angst, as a proxy for their own experiences.
Many schools and libraries either banned the book due to its use of profanity and occasional scatological references or championed it for its portrayal of adolescence.
“Catcher” has been translated into the world’s major languages and sold more than 65 million copies. It is routinely listed among the best novels of the 20th century.
Alarmed by his sudden fame, Salinger has been a recluse since 1953, ferociously protecting his privacy in Cornish, a small town in northwest New Hampshire.
Besides “Catcher” he published only a few books and collections of short stories, including “9 Stories,” “Franny and Zooey,” “Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters” and “Seymour: - An Introduction.”
Neighbors in Cornish rarely saw him and he never returned phone calls or letters from readers or admirers. Only rumors, infrequent sightings, and rare, brief interviews brought him to public attention.
He has not published a work since 1965 and the real-life Salinger would have been a disappointment to his most famous creation.
“What really knocks me out,” Caulfield said in “The Catcher in the Rye,” “is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
In a rare interview with the New York Times in 1974, he said there was “marvelous peace” in not publishing.
“It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure,” he said.
Salinger often turned to the courts to help him guard his privacy. In 1982 he sued to halt the publication of a fictitious interview with a major magazine. In 2009, he sued to stop the U.S. publication of a novel by Swedish writer Fredrik Colting that presents Holden Caulfield as an old man.
Jerome David Salinger was born on New Year’s Day in 1919 in New York to Sol Salinger, a cheese importer, and Marie Jillich. He attended three colleges but never graduated.
Salinger began writing magazine stories in 1940 before joining the Army during World War Two and seeing combat as part of the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.
In her controversial 2001 biography “Dream Catcher,” Salinger’s daughter Margaret said her father was one of the first soldiers to arrive at a liberated concentration camp.
The book portrayed him as a self-centered wife-abuser who told his pregnant daughter to get an abortion because she “had no right to bring a child into this lousy world.”
Salinger married three times. The first was an eight-month marriage with a woman he had arrested in Europe for being a minor Nazi Party official.
Salinger met a young Radcliffe student, Claire Douglas, in New Hampshire in 1953. The pair married in 1954, and had two children, Margaret and Matthew. He and Claire divorced in 1966.
His third and surviving wife, Colleen, was a nurse who was some 40 years younger than him.
Reporting by Ros Krasny, editing by Christine Kearney and David Storey