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Roderick Thorp; Writer of 'Die Hard,' 'The Detective'

Obituaries

May 02, 1999|JON THURBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roderick Thorp, a best-selling author of detective novels probably best known for the books "Die Hard" and "The Detective," has died.

Thorp died Wednesday in Oxnard of a heart attack, according to his son, Roddy Thorp. He was 62.

In the hard-boiled world of detective novels, Thorp was considered by many critics to be a master of suspense and characterization. In an interview with The Times some years ago, he described himself as "a seat of the pants writer."

"He started with an idea, and then he would outline it on index cards and lay it out and flesh out the story," Roddy Thorp said Saturday. "He wrote longhand up until about 10 years ago. . . . Loose-leaf paper and No. 2 pencil." But arthritis apparently stopped that method, and he turned to computers.

Roderick Mayne Thorp Jr. was born in New York City on Sept. 1, 1936. He showed early promise as a writer and went to City College of New York, from which he graduated in 1957. At City College he won prizes for short story writing.

But success as an author was taking time for Thorp, so he went to work in his father's business.

"Until I clicked as a writer, I worked for him, and when he retired, I ran the business for a couple of years," he once said.

That business was a detective agency, where over a nine-year period Thorp gathered the tools of the investigative trade.

"I came to what I know about police procedure, investigative techniques and all the rest from my father," he told The Times.

Thorp's first brush with critical and popular success came with his second book, "The Detective," published in 1966. The book lingered on the best-seller lists and sold millions of copies worldwide. It was turned into a movie of the same name two years later, starring Frank Sinatra and Lee Remick.

Commenting on one of Thorp's later books, "Rainbow Drive," Don Campbell, a Times reviewer, wrote that although Thorp did not originate the genre of the police crime novel, "his near-classic study of the dark side of human nature, 'The Detective' . . . at least laid the ground rules for how it should be done."

Thorp spent the early 1970s teaching literature at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J., before moving in 1976 to Los Angeles. Three years later, he had a fling with newspaper work, writing a series for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner titled "On the Cocaine Trail." He published another detective novel, "Nothing Lasts Forever," which was purchased by 20th Century Fox. The second edition of that title came out in 1988 with a new name: "Die Hard."

The film adaptation of the book, starring Bruce Willis, was a major success and spawned two other movies.

In the last several years, Thorp took a break from writing and again turned to teaching, often over the Internet, helping fledgling writers with their manuscripts.

Throughout it all, he was an unassuming man who smoked plain-wrap cigarettes and drove nondescript cars. He once said money probably wouldn't change his no-frills habits.

"The quality of my life isn't in shopping for gold-plated cars," he said. "I value friendship, loyalty, truthfulness, honor--you know, the intrinsics that seem to have gone by the board. . . . I don't care whether the neighbors know I've made it or not."

Thorp is survived by his wife, Claudia, sons Roddy and Stephen, and grandchildren Stacey, Valerie and Carolyn.

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