Writer Cussler Dead At 88

NEW YORK (AP) — Clive Cussler, the million-selling adventure writer and real-life thrill-seeker who wove personal details and spectacular fantasies into his page-turning novels about underwater explorer Dirk Pitt, has died, his publisher said Wednesday.

Cussler died Monday at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, said Alexis Welby, spokeswoman for publisher Penguin Random House. He was 88. The cause was not disclosed.

Cussler dispatched Pitt and pal Al Giordino on exotic missions highlighted by shipwrecks, treachery, espionage and beautiful women, in popular works including “Cyclops,” “Night Probe!” and his commercial breakthrough, “Raise the Titanic!”

Cussler was an Illinois native who was raised in Southern California and lived in Arizona for most of his final years, but he sent Pitt around the globe in plots that ranged from the bold to the incredible. “The Treasure” features an aspiring Aztec despot who murders an American envoy, the hijacking of a plane carrying the United Nations secretary-general and soldiers from ancient Rome looting the Library of Alexandria. In “Iceberg,” the presidents of French Guiana and the Dominican Republic are the ones in danger, during a visit to Disneyland. In “Sahara,” a race across the desert somehow leads to new information about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

“Again and again, Dirk Pitt, working for the fictional National Underwater and Marine Agency, must find a sunken vessel and retrieve some artifact,” Mark Schone, summarizing Cussler’s novels, wrote in The New York Times in 2004. “Evil forces, be they Commies or Blofeldian madmen, try to stop him. Along the way Pitt saves himself, the world and the damsel of the moment.”

Cussler has a new novel, “Journey of the Pharaohs,” set to be released March 10, with several more awaiting posthumous publication.

In real life, Cussler founded his own National Underwater and Marine Agency and participated in dozens of searches for old ships, including one that turned up a steamship belonging to Cornelius Vanderbilt. He also had a long history of questionable claims — some admitted, some denied.

“He can definitely spin the tall tales and is a master of fiction. But that doesn’t mean I buy into his alleged discovery claims,” Dr. E. Lee Spence wrote on his blog in 2011. Spence, a prominent underwater archaeologist feuded with Cussler over which of them recovered a Confederate submarine.

Born an only child in 1931 in Aurora, Illinois, and raised in Alhambra, California, Cussler’s name and writing persona have the air of a pseudonym, but he was born with his moniker, named for the British actor Clive Brook. He studied for two years at Pasadena City College before enlisting in the Air Force and serving as a mechanic and flight engineer during the Korean War.

In 1955, he married Barbara Knight, with whom he had three children. Through much of the 1960s, he worked in advertising, as a copywriter and creative director. Among the better known slogans he helped coin — “It’s stronger than dirt,” for an Ajax laundry detergent campaign.

In his free time, he was writing fiction and moonlighting at a skin-diving equipment shop, where his wife suggested he work to help gather material for his novels.

“When creating advertising, I had always looked at the competition and wondered what I could conceive that was totally different,” Cussler said in an interview included in “Dirk Pitt Revealed,” a nonfiction book released in 1998. “(James) Bond was becoming incredibly popular through the movies, and I knew I couldn’t match Ian Fleming’s style and prose. So I was determined not to write about a detective, secret agent or undercover investigator or deal in murder mysteries. My hero’s adventures would be based on and under water.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)