Remembering Pat Conroy, A Master Who Used His Tortured Life To Tell Stories The best-selling author of The Prince of Tides died Friday evening at the age of 70. At his death he was concluding work on his latest book, Aquarius.

Remembering Pat Conroy, A Master Who Used His Tortured Life To Tell Stories

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Pat Conroy, the beloved author of "The Great Santini," The Lords Of Discipline" and "The Prince Of Tides," died on Friday. He was 70 years old. Conroy died at his home, surrounded by family in Beaufort, S.C. He had said last month that he had pancreatic cancer. Tom Vitale has this appreciation.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: Pat Conroy was a master storyteller, blending the raw material of his difficult family life with the landscape of coastal South Carolina. In 1986, Conroy told me the reason he wrote was to explain his own life to himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PAT CONROY: Writing has been not therapeutic for me, but it's been essential. If I get it on paper, I've named the demon.

VITALE: Conroy's best-known work is "The Prince Of Tides," a novel about a troubled South Carolina native recounting his story to a New York psychiatrist. The prologue begins, my wound is geography.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CONROY: (Reading) I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders. As a boy I was happy above the channels, navigating a small boat between the sandbars with their quiet nation of oysters exposed on the brown flats at the low watermark.

NAN TALESE: When we met, he said now, I'm going to tell you if there are 10 words for something, I will use all 10. Your job is to take them out.

VITALE: Nan Talese was Pat Conroy's editor for the last 35 years, beginning with "The Prince Of Tides" - a span that saw Conroy's book sales rise to a total of 20 million copies worldwide. Speaking from a South Carolina hotel this morning, Talese said Conroy touched people with his language and his honesty.

TALESE: And his incredible sense of empathy with people. And I think that his books influenced a lot of people because he was so open and honest. And it really struck their hearts.

VITALE: Pat Conroy was born in 1945 in Atlanta. He was a self-described military brat. His family moved every year until they settled in Beaufort when he was 12. In "The Great Santini," Conroy wrote about his relationship with his abusive father, a Marine aviator. In the 1979 film version of the story, the father is played by Robert Duvall, here addressing his four young children after a move.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GREAT SANTINI")

ROBERT DUVALL: (As Bull Meechum) OK hogs, I've listened to you bellyache about moving to this new town. This sad bellyaching will end as of 15:30 hours - will not affect the morale of the squadron henceforth. Do I make myself clear?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: Yes, sir.

VITALE: After high school, Pat Conroy's father sent his oldest son to The Citadel, Charleston's storied military academy, where Pat began to write fiction. But Conroy says his natural storytelling ability was never affected by literary theory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CONROY: We didn't have any. I'm great on military science. There was nothing conscious about when I approached a novel for the first time. I just didn't know how to write one.

VITALE: His education as a writer came elsewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CONROY: I came from a family of great storytellers. And that is something about the South I think has been preserved. And the yarn, the story and the ability tell one well is a beloved trait in, you know, several my uncles and aunts. You know, and a great story changes the world for you. It changes the way you look at life.

VITALE: Pat Conroy said he'd look for stories that told something about the world which he didn't know before.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CONROY: The one thing I've had is a very painful life, filled with other moments of great joy. I mean, things happened to me for reasons I cannot figure out. And as things have continued to happen to me all my life and happened to my family all my life and now happening to my friends. You know, I see - what I hope is that I don't die before I can tell all the stories I still haven't told.

VITALE: Conroy was telling those stories until the end. Before he died, he finished a short novel called "Aquarius," set in the Vietnam era and dedicated to his friends who become teachers. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

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