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Larry McMurtry, who wrote of complex relationships in novels such as "The Last Picture Show" and "Terms of Endearment," and then helped redefine the American Old West with the epic "Lonesome Dove," has died at 84, his publicist said on Friday.
The cause was heart failure, according to publicist Amanda Lundberg, who said by email the author was surrounded by loved ones, including his wife Norma Faye and long-time writing partner, Diana Ossana, when he died on Thursday night.
In addition to his Pulitzer Prize for "Lonesome Dove" in 1986, McMurtry won an Academy Award in 2006 with Ossana for the screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain" about the relationship between two gay cowboys. He also was nominated in 1972 for his adaptation of his novel "The Last Picture Show."
McMurtry wrote nearly 50 books - collections of essays and criticism and memoirs in addition to his novels - but "Lonesome Dove" had the most impact. It was a sweeping tale of two aging former Texas Rangers - the amiable Gus and cantankerous Call - on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana.
"If anybody had any sense, they'd throw out 'Moby-Dick' and put 'Lonesome Dove' in the center as the great American epic novel," Carolyn See, a literature professor at the University of California Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times in 2003.
"No question about it. His heroes in that book are just terrific. His women are just terrific. And he sustains it for 800 pages."
McMurtry was remembered for being as unassuming as he was accomplished.
James L. Brooks, who directed "Terms of Endearment," recalled on Twitter how McMurtry had him adapt the novel into a screenplay, refusing "to let me hold him in awe" and was "working the cash register of his rare book store as he did so."
Fellow novelist Stephen King called him a great storyteller.
"I learned from him, which was important," King said on Twitter. "I was entertained by him, which was ALL important."
McMurtry developed lasting affection for many of his characters and quite often brought them back for sequels. The principles from "Lonesome Dove" would eventually be in four books and the characters from "The Last Picture Show" generated five novels.
Critics praised McMurtry for his skill in fashioning nuanced and compelling characters and the way he brought them together - whether they were coming-of-age teenagers fighting small-town ennui in "The Last Picture Show" or a self-absorbed woman and her needy, dying daughter in "Terms of Endearment."
McMurtry had a contrarian streak - he wore jeans over his tuxedo jacket to pick up his Oscar - and took a simple approach to his writing.
"I like making stuff up," he told Texas Monthly in 2016. "I just write."
McMurtry, the son and grandson of ranchers, was born on June 3, 1936, on a book-less cattle ranch near the West Texas plains town of Archer City. The town would be the model for Thalia, the setting for "The Last Picture Show" and its sequels.