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Best-selling author Elmore Leonard dies at 87

  • In this Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010 file photo, author Elmore Leonard works on a manuscript at his home in Bloomfield Township, Mich. Leonard, a former adman who later in life became one of America's foremost crime writers, has died. He was 87. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

DETROIT — Elmore Leonard, the beloved crime novelist whose acclaimed best-sellers and the movies made from them chronicled the violent deaths of many a thug and conman, has died. He was 87.

Leonard, winner of an honorary National Book Award in 2012, died Tuesday morning at his home in Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit, from complications of a stroke he suffered a few weeks ago, said his researcher, Gregg Sutter. Leonard was surrounded by family, Sutter said.

Leonard's millions of fans, from bellhops to Saul Bellow, made all of his books since "Glitz" (1985) best-sellers. When they flocked to watch John Travolta in the movie version of "Get Shorty" in 1995, its author became the darling of Hollywood's hippest directors. And book critics and literary lions, prone to dismiss crime novels as mere entertainments, competed for adjectives to praise him.

Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

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His more than 40 novels were populated by pathetic schemers, clever conmen and casual killers. Each was characterized by moral ambivalence about crime, black humor and wickedly acute depictions of human nature: the greedy dreams of Armand Degas in "Killshot," the wisecracking cool of Chili Palmer in "Get Shorty," Jack Belmont's lust for notoriety in "The Hot Kid."

Leonard's novels and short stories have been turned into dozens of feature films, television movies and series, including the current FX show "Justified," which stars Timothy Olyphant as one of Leonard's signature characters, the cool-under-pressure U.S. marshal Raylan Givens.

"When something sounds like writing, I rewrite it," Leonard often said — and critics adored the flawlessly unadorned, colloquial style.

As author Ann Arensberg put it in a New York Times book review, "I didn't know it was possible to be as good as Elmore Leonard."

On Tuesday, crime novelist James Lee Burke said Leonard was a "gentleman of the old school" who went out of his way to help him with his career even though the two had not met.

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